Justin Stephens for HISTORY
It takes a special kind of crazy to willingly—and repeatedly—crash a motorcycle through burning boards. Flaming debris can settle in a rider’s lap. Impact at even moderate speeds can cause concussion. And with all that smoke, it can be as good as driving blind.
That is—if you survive the temps, which can reach up to 2,000 degrees.
Four-time X Games medalist Vicki Golden seems to possess that brand of crazy—a combination of vision, ambition and guts that makes her a 21st-century heir to the legacy of Evel Knievel, the legendary two-wheeling daredevil who jumped, and crashed, his way into pop-culture history in the 1960s and ’70s. On Sunday July 7, at HISTORY’s “Evel Live 2” live television event in San Bernardino, California, this rising-star stunt athlete will aim to make history of her own, by being the first woman to set a new world record for riding through flaming boards.
The stunt will be the featured event in a revamped format for “Evel Live 2,” after renowned freestyle motocross athlete Axell Hodges crashed during a practice run to beat the longest motorcycle jump in history—a distance of 378 feet and 9 inches—and severely injured both ankles. “I’m shocked I’m not in worse shape and feel extremely grateful to have been able to get up from this crash,” Hodges says. The revamped show will include exclusive crash footage.
“Daredevils throughout history have risked their lives, putting it all on the line during their death-defying stunts,” said Eli Lehrer, executive vice president and general manager for HISTORY. “It takes a certain type of hero to fall and get back up again.”
Golden’s stunt drives forward the Knievel legacy. Early in his career, when Evel crashed through fireboards, motorcycle stunt entertainment was in its infancy. In January 1966, at the debut show of “Knievel and his Daredevils” in Indio, California, a free-wheeling Evel wowed fans by performing wheelies, crashing through plywood firewalls and jumping over two (yes, just two) pick-up trucks.
These days, the stunts have become exponentially harder. And riders like Golden train with the rigor of elite athletes. To pull off this feat, she is working with action-sports group Nitro Circus and its team of veteran stunt athletes, engineers, technologists, trainers and more. Here are the particulars of what it’s going to take to break this world record:
When Golden attempts to power through 13 flaming walls, each consisting of five pine boards, she will be the first female to challenge the current record of 12, set in 2007 by Louis “Rocket” Re. The motorcycle that will power her through the flames: the Indian FTR1200 S, which boasts a 120 horsepower, 1203cc V-Twin engine.
Winner of three consecutive X Games gold medals, Golden stands as one of the top female riders on the planet. Nominated for the Best Female Action Sports Athlete ESPY award in 2014, she’s the only woman in history to nail an FMX (freestyle motocross) backflip—on one of the largest FMX ramps in the world.
The San Diego native isn’t the only female who’s revved her way into the record books. In 1974, as Evel Knievel was drawing attention to motorcycle stuntdom, Debbie Lawler earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records with a 101-feet leap over 16 Chevy pickups, a feat broadcast live on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Evel reclaimed the record not long after, but the fearless Lawler came to be known as the “the flying angel.” Jolene Van Vugt, now a top Hollywood stunt cyclist, became the first woman to ever backflip a full-size dirt bike and also executed the longest motorcycle backflip by a female. Leslie Porterfield, meanwhile, holds several land-speed records, having smoked across the Bonneville Salt Flats at an average speed of 232 m.p.h.
Crashing through fiery boards will require huge amounts of control from Golden, as she focuses on keeping the bike moving straight ahead at high speed amid flying debris, some of which can get caught in her chest and lap. And for much of the time, she’ll be essentially riding blind—struggling to maintain sight lines through the intense smoke and fire.
And her skill as a rider wouldn’t matter if she didn’t have the right equipment to protect her from temperatures that can reach as high as 2,000 degrees. Stunts such as this carry the risk not only of burns, but of smoke inhalation and scorched nostrils and lungs. Golden, who will be sporting a Nomex fire-resistant suit and protective helmet and mask, will likely be employing special breathing techniques to avoid or minimize lung damage. No doubt most people in the audience will also be holding their breath.
Because, in record-smashing action sports, emerging unscathed is never a given—as Axell Hodges can recently attest. Golden’s high-tech gear will help, but ultimately, it will be focus, determination, skill—and inner fire—that will drive the result. The spirit of Evel will be in San Bernardino, urging her on.