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Make it or break it
Robert F. Jones
September 02, 1974
Millions are at stake and a life is on the line for one shot across the canyon
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September 02, 1974

Make It Or Break It

Millions are at stake and a life is on the line for one shot across the canyon

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Later he moseys into the Blue Lakes Inn cocktail lounge for a nightcap or three. In attendance are Bob Arum, president of Top Rank, Inc., which is orchestrating the whole show and claims to have paid Evel $6 million up front for a share of the action, and a few of Arum's aides. Evel is in a combative mood. He chides Arum for wearing a red and white seersucker suit—"Who do you think you are, the Great Gatsby?"—and wonders aloud why he ever signed on anyone to help in promotion of the jump.

"Hell," he says, "I'm better than P. T. Barnum and Colonel Parker put together." Nobody denies it.

A couple of his Butte buddies join the party. These are the men who built Evel's launch ramp and he welcomes them heartily—Coors all around.

"Hell, I don't need nobody," he continues. "Certainly don't need no smart Harvard lawyers. Hey, Ralph, remember that big old Euclid I used to drive up at the Anaconda mine? One day they dropped about a six-ton rock in the back of that Yuke, and when I took off I popped a wheelie. The front of the Yuke hit a 4,800-volt power line overhead and blacked out all of Butte. Hell, it blacked out the whole county. The foreman tells me I'm fired, so what'd I do? I went and picked up my pay and then I drove the Yuke on down to the foreman's little hut and I dumped 17 cubic yards of dirt on it. Got on my motorsickle and roared on out of there. I don't need nobody. Hell, maybe what I'll do now, I'll buy Anaconda and fire that foreman. Like they always said: God made man, and the Winchester made 'em equal!"

Arum leaps to his feet, resplendent in his Gatsby suit, and begins singing a Harvard fight song.

By midafternoon of the following day Evel is ready for the first public unveiling of the Sky-Cycle X-2 at the jump site. The vehicle is already mounted at the base of the ramp, dwarfed by the big sky overhead and the deep canyon below. Evel roars up in his station wagon and dismounts. He is dressed all in black and he starts to run up the 40-degree earthen ramp toward the Sky-Cycle. About halfway up he starts to puff and wisely walks the rest of the way.

"Get that crane away from here," he yells to a workman. "Get them photographers away till I call for them." He spies Wicked Ward standing guard at the bottom of the ramp. "Wicked, you keep them civilians the hell away from here. Chase 'em off if they try to get up."

Incipient paranoia? Evel has gotten extremely wary of late—"There are hundreds of guys who want to know how this Sky-Cycle works, and if they find out, everyone will be into the canyon-jumping game." So cautious has he become that he registers at motels under aliases (Mr. Forbes and Mr. Rosenstein are two recent noms d'espionnage); only the mention of a given code word, which is changed week by week, will get a caller through to him by telephone. The press, which once scorned Evel as a blow-hard, is now getting scorned in return as jump day nears and the market for Evel stories rises.

The crane trundles off and Evel retires to his van, emerging a few minutes later in his red, white and blue leathers. He stalks up the ramp slowly this time, cane in hand, cape flapping in the hot breeze, posturing for the cameras. Suddenly a car roars onto the site and brakes to a halt in a cloud of dust. Out jumps Jim Welch, president of Nabisco Confections, Inc. Welch, 43, a prematurely gray but boyish-looking Bostonian, has paid Evel $100,000 for the right to put a decal advertising Chuckles candy on the tail fin of the Sky-Cycle X-2 and a label on Evel's helmet. He has been up all night and most of the day supervising the proper preparation of the decals. Now he runs up the ramp, labels aflap, to get them pasted on before the monumental picture-taking session begins.

Evel stares down at the panting figure laboring up the slope toward him. "Hey," he yells. "We're going to forget this label for now. It's too big."

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