080917-nws-sturgissnakes

Doug Danger will attempt a 120-foot motorcycle jump over a pit of rattlesnakes Thursday night, but the Sturgis Buffalo Chip needs to acquire the snakes first.  

Tom Griffith, Journal staff

WANTED: Rattlesnakes. By the dozen. Alive. For Doug Danger’s death-defying motorcycle jump over a pit filled with snakes. Must be delivered to the Sturgis Buffalo Chip by 4 p.m. Thursday. Free concert pass for Thursday for every live rattlesnake provided.

That ad may be fictitious, but it will be honored.

Organizers of Doug Danger’s latest quest for the record books had hoped to have 2,000 rattlesnakes in a pit when the daredevil stuntman makes his 120-foot jump early Thursday evening. But a drought throughout the Midwest has made acquiring the venomous creatures tougher than anyone thought.

As of Tuesday morning, the Buffalo Chip had only two rattlesnakes, and they’re looking for more.

“One local rancher says he has thousands of rattlers on his place in a normal year,” said Buffalo Chip President Rod Woodruff. “And this year he hasn’t seen a one. But he has his ranch hands out there looking for snakes.”

Danger, whose birth name is Doug Senecal, said Tuesday morning that in his heart of hearts, he hopes those ranch hands don’t have much luck. The 55-year-old stuntman, who has made more than 1,000 motorcycle jumps, said he’s had a fear of snakes ever since he had nightmares about them as a kid.

“I really don’t have a fond feeling for snakes, that’s for sure,” Danger said. “And I don’t think they like me, either.”

But after he had made a successful record-breaking 130-foot jump over 22 cars at the Chip in August 2015, Danger said he and Woodruff started discussing other mind-boggling stunts the daredevil could bring to the mecca of motorcycling in the future. They soon settled on soaring over a pit of long, limbless reptiles with no eyelids and a deadly bite.

“Beer might have been involved in the decision,” Danger admitted. “It all sounds easy when you’re drinking.”

Regardless of how many rattlesnakes occupy the pit at the Chip on Thursday night, Danger and Woodruff agreed that the jump alone comes with great risk. As planned, Danger will hit the takeoff ramp at exactly 74 mph on a stock 1972 Harley-Davidson XR750, a bike famed stuntman Evel Knievel once owned and which Danger borrowed from The Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, Kan.

“It’s an under-powered motorcycle and it’s a long jump on a Harley-Davidson, a bike that was never meant to leave the ground,” Danger said. “I certainly don’t want to be going 72 mph on that takeoff ramp.”

In fact, Knievel attempted a similar feat in his first public stunt in 1965, at Moses Lake, Wash. Riding a Honda motorcycle, Knievel cleared a 90-foot box of snakes and then jumped over a couple of mountain lions. Although he was unharmed, news reports noted the jump didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned.

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"I jumped 50 rattlesnakes in a 90-foot box and two mountain lions, but smashed into the edge of the box,” Knievel later recalled. “All the snakes got out and the people had to run down the mountain.”

Recognizing that audiences only flocked to Knievel’s stunts expecting him to crash, which he frequently did, breaking more than 50 bones in his body, Woodruff said Danger’s newest attempt to fly over deadly serpents on a vintage motorcycle was destined to be a classic.

“It’s easy to assume that this isn’t a big deal, but how many people do you know who could get on a motorcycle and soar 120 feet?” he asked. “This shouldn’t be taken for granted. There’s not much difference in making the jump or coming up a couple feet short, unless you’re the rider."

Woodruff said in all seriousness that it is a life or death situation. "My life insurance guy who’s calculating the risks thinks maybe we should have spent some more time with a slide rule,” he said.

The Chip owner, known for booking top musical talent and staging outlandish acts, said whatever rattlers they have by Thursday’s 5 p.m. jump will be placed near Danger’s landing ramp in an effort to determine if the bright red rabbit’s foot he wears actually works.

“We’re a little shy on rattlesnakes right now, but it only takes one to kill you,” Woodruff noted. “Everybody has a sense of humor about this except Doug Danger. This truly is a dangerous jump in every respect, in terms of the machinery he’s using and the cavalier attitude of those hosting the jump. I mean, what could go wrong?”

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