Vying for competition with stars on the red carpet, a very red tractor and trailer drew the crowds at a Hollywood premiere for “Being Evel,” a new documentary on legendary daredevil Evel Knievel. Big Red, a custom 1975 Mack FS cabover with an extra-long sleeper and matching trailer, was built in 1975 by one of his major sponsors – Mack Trucks – to haul Knievel, his motorcycles and ramps around the country in his typically flamboyant style.
When Knievel’s career ended with the 1970s, his motorcycles, leathers and other equipment seemed to disappear, including Big Red, which sat rotting in a Clearwater, FL, salvage yard until 2013. That’s when it was rescued by Knievel collector Lathan Mckay and brought to Topeka, KS, for restoration by Historic Harley-Davidson. “It was more sky than metal,” said Lathan, who’s following up on careers as a professional skateboarder, actor and producer with establishing Evel Knievel Enterprises, and dedicating himself to rounding up Knievel memorabilia for a new Knievel museum in Topeka.
The restoration of both the FS786LST custom tractor and trailer took 18 months and $300,000, according to Mike Patterson, the third-generation owner of Historic HD. The vintage motorcycle dealer and restorer focused on refurbishing rather than replacing all of the original equipment right down to the curtains and paneling in the sleeper. “It was just like an old motorcycle [restoration], just bigger and with more bolts,” Patterson said.
Mack Truck stepped up to assist in the project not only because the company had been a Knievel sponsor back in his glory days, but because “He was committed to getting the job done,” said company spokesman John Walsh. “Even if conditions weren’t right [for a jump], he’d given his word, so he went ahead and did it. That’s a value Mack identifies with.”
Mack’s support includes two 2014 Pinnacle tractors with 70-in. high-rise sleepers and matching lowboy trailers. After the Hollywood premiere, they’ll be used to haul Big Red and its trailer and a huge collection that includes Evel’s original Harley-Davidson XR750 motorcycles and leathers on a year-long cross country tour. Once the tour ends, Big Red and its load will head for a permanent home at a new Evel Knievel museum being built in Topeka.
“Being Evel” is a warts-and-all look at Knievel’s life produced by Johnny Knoxville, the actor and producer best known for his Jackass TV series and movies. “He’s a man who meant a lot to me,” Knoxville said. “In the 70’s he was it, he was as big as Ali or Elvis. I don’t know if there’d be Jackasses without him.”
While the documentary does cover Knievel’s famous stunts like jumping over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace and attempting to jump the Snake River Canyon, it doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of his life. “As a man, he was great, hilarious and disappointing,” Knoxville said. From the inception, Knoxville said he and director Daniel Junge were committed to showing it all.
Asked about the relevance of a daredevil like Knievel to trucking, Knoxville said: “Truckers are focused on safety, and when you spend all your time on your toes and focused on safety, I think it can be good to see someone not so focused on safety. It might be a wonderful release for the truckers to see Evel taking chances. And I bet a lot of truckers grew up fans of his.”