For Doug Senecal, finishing what his idol, the legendary Evel Knievel, and one other motorcycle daredevil failed to do isn't just about setting a record.
It will be personal, an ultimate bucket-list item, if you will, when Senecal, who goes by the stage name Doug Danger, climbs aboard one of Knievel's 1972 Harley-Davidson XR-750 motorcycles and attempts to jump it over 22 cars at the Buffalo Chip Campground during the 75th Sturgis motorcycle rally on Aug. 6.
Senecal grew up in Massachusetts idolizing Knievel, who soared to superstardom in the 1960s and 1970s, as much for a reputation as the ultimate showman as a series of record-setting motorcycle jumps and epic crashes.
Senecal followed in Knievel's footsteps, gaining coverage in a local newspaper for jumping four cars on a bicycle, and quickly learned to jump his first motorcycle bought for him by stepfather at age 11.
"He’s always been my hero. I’ve always looked up to him," Senecal said of Knievel. "I would never try to do anything to insult him.
"That’s why this jump to me isn’t about beating any records. This is more about finishing the jump for my friend who didn’t quite get to the other side."
Knievel came up one car short in his try to clear 22 cars, about 134 feet, back on Sept. 1, 1972, at Monroe, Wash.
Another daredevil, Bubba Blackwell of Bon Secour, Ala., crashed badly and spent weeks in a coma after failing at the same distance on a similar bike in 2001.
“This jump has been attempted twice by two of the greatest jumpers in the world,” Senecal said in a telephone interview from his home in Wales, Mass. “Neither one of them made it.”
“I might make it or I might not,” he said. “If I miss, I’m probably going to be dead.”
Senecal has also beaten the odds away from motorcycling, battling a deadly form of cancer that nearly took his life three years ago.
A surgeon who removed a malignant tumor from his throat in 2012 initially told Senecal his chances of survival were 60 to 70 percent.
Those odds plummeted when the cancer was found to have spread to his lymph nodes and lungs.
His oncologist told him that only five percent of people with this stage of the disease survive.
Senecal recalls laughing at the grim prognosis.
“Five out of 100? I said, ‘I’m one of those five. Let’s go. Do what you have to do and tell me what I have to do,’” he said.
He endured a grueling regimen of experimental chemotherapy. Senecal said the lone regret he pondered during his illness was the possibility that he might not have a chance to complete the 22-car jump.
He already owns several world jumping records, including the overall record for clearing 42 cars on a lightweight, powerful motocross bike engineered for the purpose. For the Knievel jump, he’ll twist the throttle on a heavy, vintage Harley with an old-school road suspension.
“It’s one of Evel’s actual bikes,” he said. “We’ve got most of the pieces back. It’s probably 60 percent complete."
Senecal is taller than Knievel, so he’ll need to change the positioning of foot pegs on the bike's frame. He is also working with a Topeka, Kan., Harley-Davidson shop to coax more speed out of the machine with changes in gearing and engine tuning.
Senecal said he learned first-hand of the emotional connection between fans of Knievel, the XR-750 and this jump.
“I got a chance to jump that bike over 15 cars last year in Texas and as soon as I landed, there were people that were crying because they got to see Evel’s bike flying again. They kept asking, ‘Do you think you can break the record on this?’” he said.
He’ll get his chance at the Buffalo Chip, which is billing the attempt as part of the Evel Knievel Thrill Show exhibit at the campground for the 75th annual Sturgis motorcycle rally.
“This is an incredibly difficult and terrifying jump,” said Buffalo Chip president Rod Woodruff in a prepared news release. “We are doing all we can to make sure Doug Danger lands safely, but that bike was not built for a jump like this. We really hope he can make it.”
The Knievel exhibit will include the daredevil’s Skycycle rocket from his infamous, ill-fated 1974 attempt to jump Idaho’s Snake River Canyon, X-rays of his numerous broken bones, his trademark leathers and cape, and the Mack truck show-rig he named “Big Red.”
Senecal isn’t minimizing the risk involved in attempting something that two other legendary motorcycle jumpers fell short of doing.
“This is for those who say life ends at 50 and cancer ends your life. If I land this bike perfectly and hit the sweet spot on the ramp, there’s going to be a party at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip like they’ve never seen before,” he said.
“You’re going to be able to say you were there when history was made."