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  • John 10:39 am on October 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bob pleso, motorcycle jump, stunt   

    Quest to Jump 200 Feet: The Tragic Years of 1973 and 1974 

    Unless someone does a YouTube, Google News search or orders a rare, expensive DVD or book, not much is known about the other motorcycle jumpers during the 1970s. It’s all about Evel Knievel. That fact created a lot of animosity back then and there was an immense level of competition to set and break jumping records by all of these guys. We have all heard of Evel Knievel, for he was and is the most famous showman and motorcycle jumper of all time. But, today we are going to take a look at two other men who were just as good on a bike, had wrecked less than Evel, but whose lives were forever changed, one ending in death, the other in paralysis. Coincidentally, they were both named Bob and were both in competition with each other, with Evel and the rest.

    For years, 200 feet was seen as the distance limit for jumping a speeding motorcycle from a ramp. Contrary to popular belief, Evel did not always hold all of the records or make the most number of successful jumps. His counterparts did. And they, who are often called “copycats”, are hardly known at all. Two are worth remembering here on this blog today, for this blog is about strange and bizarre history.

    Let’s get into it, shall we?

    1973

    Bob Pleso was a wiry, yet handsome, 22 year old kid that hailed from Ohio. He now performed his motorcycle feats across the southeast but his new home base was in Ocala, Florida. Being a non-smoker and non-drinker, Bob often criticized the drinking Knievel, saying that the elder jumper was a bad influence on kids. That said, Bob wore a look-alike Evel Knievel leather riding outfit and helmet and had 66 successful jumps to his name, mostly at county fairs, drag strips and car shows along the eastern United States.

    Some cool photos of Bob Pleso via this video slideshow. Music by Stan Meissner. Credit to cyclejumpers.com and Bob’s brother, Bill.

    Pleso was cocky, had a quiet confident charm but when he said something, he meant it. By 1973, he had nurtured a real criticism and disrespect for Evel Knievel, whom he referred to as the “greatest con man in America”. This seemed to be his feeling for the upcoming Snake River Canyon rocket car jump, which he thought of as a sham and easy money for Knievel.

    Pleso’s longest jump up to this time was 161′ over 15 cars. That’s well over half a football field and equal to what Evel was achieving at the time. Unofficially, Pleso had once jumped 212′, but it was not counted as a world record. This fact would make him even more obsessed with the 200 foot mark. It was eating at him. Thus, the world record in 1973 was held by Bob Gill who had jumped 171′ over 22 cars. We will talk about the amazing Bob Gill later on in this article.

    On Sunday, August 4, 1973, relying on physics and his expert training, the young Bob Pleso planned to leave a jumping record that would sit him alone at the top of the jumping world for quite some time. He would at least die trying. With Evel Knievel making successful jumps around the country as a warm-up to his Snake River jump, Pleso was not going to just sit around and miss all of the limelight. Spectators who were there that day at rural Phenix City Dragway are still leaving comments on YouTube and message boards. It was a terrible thing to see. Indeed, Bob did try to jump 200′ over 30 cars. He was going 95 mph, but the wind kicked up on takeoff and Bob just barely clipped the 29th car which prevented his triumphant landing. There would be no record broken that day. Bob would leave behind a young wife, and be survived by his parents and younger brother. Only his brother was at the jump that fateful day in Phenix City, Alabama.

    Bob warming up the crowd on the last day of his life.

    The video of Bob’s crash has long been on the internet, and is most often mislabeled or tagged as some other rider like Evel, or Robin Winter-Smith. But, here it is… Bob’s wreck and final moments. Warning: Bob died a few hours later from massive internal injuries and fractures. Viewer discretion.

    Bob’s motorcycle crash is the first stunt in this video. The US flags were always on his take off ramps:

    Newspaper clipping after the jump:

    Rock Hill Herald. Aug 5, 1974 “Pleso dies in cycle jump”

    Today:  The entrance to rural Phenix City Race Park in Alabama

    Phenix City Drag Strip in 1965

    Another view from 1965. Bob Pleso would crash here 8 years later.

    1974

    If Pleso was seen as the handsome antagonist to Evel Knievel, then Bob Gill aka “the Florida Flyer” was seen as businesslike and a modest showman. He avoided the limelight, was soft spoken, quite shy and even wore a rather nondescript jumping outfit. Gill was however friends with Evel, as there is footage of the two men hanging out together. In his career, Bob Gill made over 100 successful jumps and he was the world record holder for a few years. He even appeared in a Super Bowl commercial in 1973 for Ryder Trucks, where he jumped over some of their rentals:

    Bob Jumping Ryder Trucks for Super Bowl Commercial, 1973

    Bob always added a twist to his performances. In 1972, he jumped over something called “Cajun Canyon” outside of New Orleans, LA. Check this out:

    That’s pretty kick ass for 1972!

    However, Bob’s legacy would be jumping over Appalachian Lake in West Virginia in August, 1974. It would be a year after Bob Pleso’s death and again be over 200′. Gill would jump over a body of water onto a flat landing surface with no room for error. Rain delays would postpone the jump for a week, with Bob almost being mobbed by drunk bikers and angry ticket holders when the event was delayed. It would be a bad omen of things to come.

    I’m sold! Where do I buy a ticket?

    Appalachian Lake, West Virginia. This is the jump site as it looks today. Back in 1974 it was a dirt racing track that could accommodate a large group of people. Bob stood to make $30,000 off this 200 foot jump.

    I am not sure which side he was jumping from

    Aerial view, 1970s. You can see the dirt racing tracks in the general area.

    To make a long story short, Bob missed the landing by mere feet, and crashed into the opposite bank. He would be paralyzed from the waist down and spend a lifetime supporting this cause and research for spinal recovery victims. Bob is still alive and when not promoting his causes, he resides in sunny Florida.

    You can see footage of the Appalachian Lake jump in this awesome documentary video:

    Second Chance: A Miracle at Full Throttle

    The record of jumping 200′ successfully would not be broken for another 5 years, but as always with cycle jumping, that is up for debate and endless argument.

    Sources

    Bob Gill’s web site. http://www.bobgilldaredevillegend.com/

    Lakeland Ledger. “Faith in Isaac Newton Not Enough For Pleso”. Aug 18, 1973.

    YouTube

    CycleJumpers.com

     
    • Karl Goldsberry 12:40 pm on February 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      I was there as a young boy . I used to have pictures of his jump with a shot of his landing. the pictures have been lost over time . One of the things I remember well is the amount of drunk bikers and what I thought were the coolest choppers . The excitement before the jump was almost to much to handle . I understand the ending was tragic but I can tell you that the anticipation for a young boy was one of my fondest memories.

      • John 11:34 am on February 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for posting your memories Karl. I appreciate it.

        As far as distance goes, the jumping records for the era of the ramp to ground or ramp to ramp jumps were as follows:

        171′ 1973 held until 1977 by Bob Gill
        177′ held by Frenchman Alain Prieur
        180′ something by Todd Seeley (late 80s, he broke 177′)
        and then I believe Doug Danger went nuts, breaking not only Todd’s record but his own and held the 250′ mark until broken by Englishman Jason Rennie in around 2002 with 265′. But a lot of other guys were jumping over 200′ by the 90s, including Robbie Knievel.

        Now days, you have all these kids going 400′ but they are landing on very large dirt landing ramps, some are 70′ high and hundreds of feet long. Yes, their bikes and jumps go further and longer, and higher, but their landing ramps are VERY forgiving.

      • Ray Sutherland 3:28 pm on June 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        I was also there….13 years old at the time. What I remember is that even at 13 I recognized that the drunken bikers (can’t remember which gang they were) were a bunch of idiots and I hope that some of them accepted the guilt for causing the untimely demise of a really brave dude. They almost flipped his trailer over the week before because he cancelled due to the weather and track conditions. The following week he probably figured the knuckle dragging morons would kill him if he didn’t jump, despite the weather being not much better than the week before. Watching that landing close up, at 13 was truly horrifying. Bob – I hope you led, and continue to lead a happy and productive life.

  • John 10:38 am on October 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bob pleso, daredevils, evel   

    Evel, Super Joe and Daredevils from the 70s and beyond… 

    Also featured are several other legendary jumpers like Doug Danger, Bob Gill and Bob Pleso. Not much is known about these guys today, but they were on Wide World of Sports a lot in the 1970s when I was a kid. A few of them are no longer with us, and some are paralyzed or suffer physical and mental issues today because of their passion to entertain and go beyond the limits.

    Nothing can ever beat the power of the human spirit. Nothing.

     
    • Bonnie Brae 10:51 am on October 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      is that a trailer? I saw Evel Knievel The Rock Opera a few years ago. It was fantastic!

      • John 10:55 am on October 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        I think it is just a compilation of clips but done very professionally. I have a 2 hour dvd called “Dare the Devil” that goes into much more detail. It was not cheap $30. But contains tons of video and stories about these brave and crazy men who lived life the to the fullest and were the original X-Gamers.

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