By Pat Graham
AP Sports Writer
The Hollywood stuntman doesn’t want to follow in his idol’s footsteps so much as rocket above them — over a gaping canyon, no less.
Evel Knievel’s iconic launch, Take II.
Eddie Braun, fueled by the memory of the late daredevil, plans to strap into a steam-powered rocket cycle on Sept. 17 for his most death-defying role yet: Replicating a launch over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho that could have cost Knievel his life four decades ago.
Braun named his rocket “Evel Spirit ” after his boyhood hero. It’s nearly identical to the model Knievel used for his failed canyon attempt on Sept. 8, 1974. Braun wants to prove Knievel could’ve made it had his parachute not prematurely deployed.
Joining this endeavor are two sons eager to complete the legacies of their fathers: Kelly Knievel, who was present the day of the crash, and rocket designer Scott Truax, whose dad constructed the original rocket cycle for Knievel.
Ready, set, and (gulp) launch.
“Evel took off on one side of the canyon in 1974. I’m hoping his spirit lands on the other side of the canyon in 2016,” said the 54-year-old Braun, who says he completed the necessary paperwork and will launch a few miles away from Knievel’s original site that’s near Twin Falls, Idaho. “How many people get to fulfill the dreams of their hero? It’s kind of like touching Superman’s cape.”
Braun has long been fascinated by everything Knievel, the popular figure who attempted so many memorable motorcycle jumps over an iconic career:
— The fountains at Caesars Palace in 1967 (crashed, crushed pelvis and femur)
— 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London in 1975 (crashed, broke pelvis and back)
— 14 Greyhound buses at Kings Island theme park in Ohio in 1975 (success).
— A 90-foot tank filled with sharks in 1977 (crashed on landing ramp during rehearsal, broken arms)
And, of course, the Snake River Canyon attempt. Wearing his patriotic jumpsuit, Knievel was the epitome of cool and calm.
Soon after takeoff, his parachute deployed and halted the rocket’s momentum. Watching that day was son, Kelly, and the rocket’s designer, Robert Truax, who put a comforting arm around Kelly as the cycle drifted into the canyon.
Evel Knievel walked away with only minor injuries.
“He flipped a coin with his life, and came out alive,” said Kelly Knievel, whose father died in 2007 at 69 after suffering from diabetes and pulmonary fibrosis. “My dad certainly had nine lives, didn’t he?”
Just before the attempt, the daredevil landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Just after, his celebrity status was only cemented.
The town of Twin Falls can’t forget him, either. He put the city on the map — and opened its eyes because the Evel Knievel cavalcade supposedly left behind a trail of unpaid bills.
In 1974, Chris Talkington worked as the news director for the local television station and watched Knievel fail to make it over the canyon and then fail to pay vendors for their services. Now a city councilman in Twin Falls, he said his town is wiser about what to expect from a daredevil attempting to jump the canyon.
“It woke our little town up,” explained Talkington, who wasn’t aware of Braun’s jump but said there is a ramp near the canyon. “I look forward to (another attempt). I applaud them.”
As a kid, Braun would often jump over trash cans in the driveway on his Schwinn Stingray, pretending to be Knievel. Braun even became a professional stuntman because of Knievel, serving as a stunt double for actors such as Ray Liotta and Charlie Sheen, along with coordinating stunts for movies, TV shows and music videos.
For three years, Braun tried to launch this project and invested nearly $1.5 million. He’s looking to raise another $150,000 .
He said he’s secured the proper permission and permits from private land owners, Federal Aviation Administration, even Homeland Security, to green light his blastoff. Others have stepped up as well, including Slash from Guns N’ Roses. Braun said the guitarist recorded a theme song for him — fittingly using Elton John’s hit, “Rocket Man.”
The jump will be live-streamed on the Internet.
For years, many believed Evel Knievel’s daredevil son, Robbie — who’s completed more than 350 jumps — might be the first to take a crack at the canyon. At one point, Robbie Knievel was looking at the jump in 2011, but it didn’t take flight.
“Eddie put together the team and he’s the one that got it done,” Kelly Knievel explained. “It’s very dangerous — and very ambitious.”
Scott Truax used his father’s blueprints to reconstruct the rocket. He wanted to show that his dad’s version of Evel Knievel’s “X2 Skycycle” would’ve worked, if not for the parachute malfunction.
The late Robert Truax was considered one of top rocket scientists of the 20th century.
“With this re-creation, it is my intent to clear his name and tell his amazing story,” Scott Truax said in an email. “I like to think that instead of looking up at the rocket launch, he and Evel will be looking down on it and that’s a much better view.”
The rocket will reach a top speed of 400 mph in about 3 seconds and an altitude of 3,000 feet before the engine cuts off and the parachute deploys. Braun says he expects to soar about 1,500 feet or 0.28 miles over the canyon.
While parachute technology has improved, there’s still plenty of danger.
That’s why Braun’s wife and four kids aren’t planning to attend the launch. Braun constantly reassures them.
“They think it’s really cool that dad gets to fly a rocket,” Braun said. “I guess there’s just a little Evel in all of us.”