BEHIND THE SCENES RECAP OF THE DOUG DANGER JUMP FROM MIKE PATTERSON.
The jump was scheduled for The Evel Knievel Thrill Show Museum to capture video footage of an actual jump. We want museum visitors to be able to experience, as close as possible, what it would feel like to jump over a line of cars. We contacted Doug Danger and asked if he would do a jump of approximately 90 feet to simulate the feel of this. Normally that is about 15 cars at approximately 6 feet per car. Once we had decided to do the jump the City of Topeka called and asked if Doug would jump 15 police SUVs. The Explorer SUV is about 6 ½ feet wide. So we told Doug he would do 14 cars. He was fine with that. It was contemplated prior to the jump weekend how we were going to turn on the red lights of all the SUVs parked side by side with no way to open the doors. The options were to have a younger person climb through the windows or place the vehicles facing each other every other vehicle. The decision was made to go with the latter on jump day. When parking the vehicles, they were over lapped a bit to allow 13 cars for the first jump at around 70 feet. The film crew from Dimensional Innovations, from Shawnee, Kansas, wanted as many vehicles as possible in the shot with the lights on to achieve maximum effect.
In order to collect the footage Doug wore a special custom Bell helmet specially fitted with three 360 degree cameras. One camera was mounted on the front and two on the back of the helmet. The helmet weighed twice as much as his regular one. It created a whole new challenge for Doug to wear this on his head. Think of strapping an extra 5 pounds on top of your head with an already bulky helmet and then doing your job or better yet flying through the air at 60 mph!
The jump bike being used is part of the Evel Knievel Museum collection. It is not Doug’s regular jump bike. He has jumped the 350 pound vintage machine on 2 other occasions. The suspension on the bike is that of the 1972 era and the same type that Evel jumped with in the 1970’s. It should be said that the distance Doug was jumping in Topeka is not an extreme length for the modern dirt bikes of today with the highly technical suspension. The impressive part of what Doug is doing is the fact that he is replicating the same variables that Evel faced with the vintage era machine. There’s not a lot of guys lining up to jump 44 year old bikes with this primitive suspension over these distances. It should also be said that Evel made jumps longer and shorter than the leap by Doug in Topeka on Saturday. However, Evel crashed multiple times jumping shorter distances than what Doug completed in downtown Topeka Saturday evening.
The day started with Doug taking some shorter practice jumps early in the day to get himself reacquainted with the 1972 XR 750 Harley-Davidson. He last jumped the bike exactly 1 year ago to the day, in Sturgis, at the Buffalo Chip setting a world record by jumping 22 cars. He had jumped the bike one other time a year earlier at the Republic of Texas Motorcycle Rally. During the practice runs Doug had a scary moment that was noticed by everyone as he hit a manhole cover right before hitting the take-off ramp. The cover sent him into a high speed wobble that lasted part way up the ramp. This is why you make practice runs. He adjusted his line down the street after that. The second practice run was also not completely uneventful. His speed was not quite enough and he came up a little short hitting the safety ramp.
There was a lot of discussion between Doug and the crew concerning the distance of the jump for the evening. Doug was having a bit of difficulty getting to his speed by the point he needed to feel comfortable with jumping the extra distance. It was decided that he would turn the corner on Monroe street heading north to increase his approach length. Doug made the left turn adding speed onto 9thto get enough for the run. The discussion within Doug’s crew contemplated keeping the distance shorter. From my point of view along with the film crew, we said that we thought the shorter distance was far enough and the footage would still be good. Doug then made the decision to spread the ramps out wider for the evening jumps. The plan was to make two jumps with the first being a shorter distance to make sure we had the footage needed for the film before the longer riskier jump that had not been practiced.
The crowd arrived for the Boys & Girls Club Party along with the fans on the south side of the street. Jump time rolled around at 7:00PM. Lathan McKay, Robbie Hull and I began to prepare and start the museum’s Harley-Davidson XR 750. I did notice, as we were starting the bike, that the vintage Harley was not running ideal. There was a bit of “run-on” when decelerating the throttle. That usually signifies a slight air-leak in the fuel system. It hadn’t been an issue earlier in the day. He made the first, shorter, jump of the evening, without any issues. After the jump Doug and I discussed the engine and he noticed it too. He said it had caused him a bit of a problem on a shift during one of his speed runs. This “run-on” feels like you are keeping the throttle on while you are shifting. Not the best situation.
After the first jump the ramps were extended further apart and two more cars were added making 15 SUV’s. Granted they were a bit overlapped, but the 90 feet was achieved. The real priority is the shot for the cameras and the 15 police vehicles with the lights flashing should make a cool visual for the film. The evening was beautiful for the Boys & Girls Club party and the jump, but the sun setting about the time for the second jump had moved the glare into a bad position for Doug. He walked up the ramp and I could see the sun shining right into his eyes. It was also a concern for the camera crew as they said the cameras would have a hard time adjusting to the light compensating back and forth as he made the approach and then hitting the sun. Luckily, after a slight delay with aligning the police SUV’s, the sun dipped behind a cloud. It would have been a wait either way to pause for the sun. I bump started the bike as soon as Doug was comfortable with the ramp being re-aligned. As I warmed the bike up I noticed the air leak was getting worse and the “run-on” problem was more amplified. I told Doug it was worse when I handed him the bike and he said “I’ve got it”.
Doug and I discussed how to get up to the extra speed for the longer jump. It would be the first time to go the extra distance on this last jump. Now it should be said, this is not the longest jump that Doug had attempted. The 22 car jump last year was significantly longer but the approach and the run-off area impact what can be done with a vintage bike. Our downtown setting made this distance a challenge. We talked about revving it harder and trying third gear rather than forth. The decision was made to stay in forth and just be more aggressive at the start of the run.
I can say I was nervous for Doug. I knew some factors that only a couple of other crew members knew. The bike was not running perfect. Doug had not hit the speed, of approximately 62 mph, he needed comfortably by the needed spot yet today. His right wrist was really hurting him from a previous injury making it tough for him to turn the throttle. He was keeping his hand in a bucket of ice prior to the jump. I kidded him that we could wire the throttle wide-open and tape his hand to the bars. Doug made two runs past the ramp and the tight confines past the police cars trying to get the speed up.
I was even nervous for him to ride up the ramp and stop to wave to the crowd. The old drum front brake would not hold him on an inclined stop very well. The bike was geared very tall also making slow speed riding very tricky utilizing the clutch. I knew his wrist was hurting. Doug went ahead and did the ramp ride up and stop which was part of the choreography for the filming.
Doug obviously made the jump over the extra distance. He actually flew farther than 100 feet measuring from where hit on the landing ramp. The extra distance or possibly the ramp being slightly miss-aligned, had Doug a little crossed up on the landing adding extra suspense to his run-out.
After the jump Doug was met by a Topeka City motorcycle police officer who took the microphone and promptly issued a citation to Doug for speeding, running a red light, wreck less driving, no headlight, no turn signals and the list went on. His ticket ran over $900 dollars! It was a fun gig.
We have not seen the footage from the jump, but the film crew believed that they achieved what they were hoping for. It will be fun to experience, on the museum’s virtual reality attraction, what Doug saw flying through the evening air of Downtown Topeka.
Special thanks to all who helped throughout the day. Bruce, Amanda, Eli and Darren from the Historic Harley-Davidson team. Thanks to the Boys & Girls Club for allowing the jump to be a part of the party this year. The City of Topeka and the Police Department were phenomenal. Mitch Campbell from the police motorcycle unit was amazing and his team impressed Doug and the guys from his crew big-time. It made me even more proud of our local heroes. Doug’s crew including Lou “Rocket” Re from NY who was a great announcer. Robbie Hull from Austin, TX and Dean who drove his van all the way from Boston to be at the jump were super to work with. We even had 2 guys who had worked for Evel as crew 40 years ago, Mike Draper and Jim Ratliff both from Wichita lending a hand. They said “this is just like the good old days”. The team from Dimensional Innovations in Shawnee, Kansas are real pros and will produce and exciting attraction.
All the praise and thanks go to Doug Danger and his wife Maria. Doug is a humble, unassuming, gracious guy and a heck of a motorcycle rider. We were honored to work with him. He spent Friday at the local Boy’s and Girl’s club giving motivational talks to the kids because it was what he wanted to do. Thank you for making an impact on our community Doug and doing a cool jump in our Downtown!
We also all owe a huge thanks and gratitude to Lathan McKay, from Austin TX, who decided to share all of his hard work acquiring the amazing Evel Knievel collection right here in Topeka. Lathan is the direct connection to Doug and the reason why he made the trip from Boston.
We’re all working hard to make the museum a destination that our community is very proud of.
What a fun night in downtown Topeka!
Historic Harley-Davidson of Topeka
The Evel Knievel Thrill Show Museum