“It goes God, Evel Knievel, and everything else.”
That quote is courtesy of Mr. Dizzy, one of four car-crushing daredevils the History Channel crew follows in their new series, American Daredevils. He’s not alone in that sentiment, though. The ghost of Evel Knievel hovers over the show like a helmeted guardian angel.
Of the three crews only Spanky Spangler, who teams with his son, knew the motorcycle legend personally. Spanky has been in the business for 4o years and has survived 22,000 stunts. Forty years is a long time, which provides one of the shows subplots: Is it time for Spanky to hang up the fire suit and hand the family business over to Spanky Jr.?
The father-son dynamic between the two is interesting, sort of what one expects in a reality show but then again not. “If Bryan ever got hurt doing a stunt, I’d feel pretty bad about it,” Spanky says in the premier episode—not exactly a Ward Cleaver sentiment, but these are guys who risk their lives for a living.
What’s remarkable about their life risking is the shoddy quality of their equipment. Unlike Evel’s gleaming Harleys, these guys are jumping beater cars provided by show promoters. Sometimes they break down, sometimes they can’t get these rusty hunks up to the speed necessary to make the jump. They jump anyway, though, because that’s what the audience expects.
If Spanky is at the top of the trade, Dr. Danger represents the other end of the spectrum. He’s been in the business about half as long as Spangler, but he’s still living show to show, just breaking even. The doctor is looking for the one great stunt that will launch him into the big time, but until then he’ll gladly light himself on fire or crash a flying car into three cars set up like dominoes. Anything for a paycheck.
And between these two sits Mr. Dizzy, whose Crash Factory daredevil business continues to expand on the backs of stunts like jumping a Chevy Suburban pulling a boat and trailer over a line of cars.
Every generation has their daredevils, from Houdini to Knievel to the Jackass guys and the X-Gamers. What these guys do, though, is more in line with the sideshow tradition. They drift from racetrack to racetrack, blowing up cars and themselves for a few bucks and a little entertainment. Will American Daredevils make mainstream stars of Spanky, Spanky Jr, Mr. Dizzy, and Dr. Danger? I don’t know, but I’m going to have a lot of fun watching them try.
For more on American Devils check out the official site.
photo courtesy The History Channel