Champion freestyle motocross athlete Vicki Golden shattered a 12-year-old record Sunday night, smashing her motorcycle through 13 wooden walls of fire—the most ever in history.
Her fiery, high-stakes motorcycle stunt was the featured event in an ambitious night of daredevilry called “Evel Live 2.” Produced by HISTORY in conjunction with action-sports group Nitro Circus, the event was designed to showcase contemporary heirs of Evel Knievel, the history-making stunt cyclist and pop-culture sensation of the 1960s and ’70s. During the original “Evel Live” program one year ago in Las Vegas, motocross and X-sports legend Travis Pastrana bested two iconic Evel Knievel records in a single night—and then nailed the Caesars Palace fountain jump, something Knievel had crashed spectacularly while trying to do.
This year’s program was originally slated to also include two massive stunts by 22-year-old freestyle motocross athlete Axell Hodges: first, jumping over 25 semi-trucks and then making the longest motorcycle jump in history, a distance longer than a football field. But Hodges crashed days earlier during a practice run, badly injuring both his ankles.
It was a stark reminder of the serious risks daredevils face daily, including the possibility of devastating injuries.
“With Axell getting hurt, it broke my heart," Golden said just before her event. "All the pressure is on me. I don’t think I like it...but I’ll work on getting the job done.”
The three-time X Games gold medalist and 2014 nominee for the Best Female Action Sports Athlete ESPY award, one of the top female riders alive today, proved she was up to the task.
For this stunt, which took place on the tarmac of the San Bernardino International Airport in Southern California, Golden drove through 13 walls of fire, positioned along a 600-foot-long course, on her Indian FTR1200 S bike. Facing temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees—and unpredictable winds—Golden wore a custom suit featuring two layers of a fire-retardant material resistant to melting, dripping and burning.
Golden was challenging a record that had stood for more than a decade, set by Louis “Rocket” Re in 2007. Re well remembers the risks of the endeavor. “Fire will always find its way into the smallest creases,” he said. “You take a breath, and that will scorch your throat and your lungs.” In addition, ramming through the boards head first can cause concussion. Flaming splinters can settle in a rider's lap. Flying debris can knock them off center and cause a crash. And smoke and flames often completely compromise their vision.
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Adding to the challenge: Golden suffers from asthma, making the prospect of smoke inhalation that much more dangerous.
As stunt time approached and fire techs prepped the boards with lighter fluid, Golden had a team of handlers encasing her in her protective leathers. To seal up every nook and cranny, they taped her helmet to her inner cowl, and sprayed the gaps between her sleeves and gloves with a liquid fire retardant.
Once secured, and with EMTs and firetrucks in place, Golden took off. Her initial trajectory looked slightly left-leaning, but she soon righted her course. A flaming board stayed in her lap through the first few barriers, and a big segment of a board fell off her left elbow after she passed through the last wall.
As soon as she stopped, Golden was quickly hosed down with fire extinguishers and then converged on by medical personnel who examined her, looking first in her throat for any signs of damage.
"I had debris all over me," she said in the post-stunt interview. "I felt like it was a never-ending tunnel I was going through."
Golden says her biggest inspiration for the feat was her father, an avid dirt-bike racer who was paralyzed in an accident—and who has since passed away. “My dad was a huge Evel Knievel fan," she said. "I did it for him and I did it for Evel.”
Hodges, on crutches, was on hand to support his fellow freestyle athlete—and to talk about his accident, exclusive footage of which was aired during the program. In the video, Hodges, who was traveling about 105 m.p.h. before reaching the takeoff ramp, could be seen easily clearing the jump. But during his descent onto the back ramp, his front wheel pulled too far up. After struggling to stay with his bike, he was sent tumbling head over heels on the tarmac.
Asked what stays in his mind after re-viewing the footage, Hodges replied, “How the front came up, that was pretty scary. I just want to get that out of my head."
But he's grateful he walked away: "Everything happens for a reason. I’m walking. That’s just a blessing from the sky. I just want to stay positive and focused on what I want to get accomplished.”
In the spirit of Knievel, who was known for always bouncing back after a crash, Hodges vowed to pursue the distance record jump again.
"I want to get back out there," he said. "I’m ready to cancel out those mistakes and take it down."