by Aaron Johnson
As the crowd at Brandt’s Harley-Davidson in Wabash got larger and larger, the music grew louder and louder. Guns and Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” played over multiple loudspeakers in the parking lot only minutes before 47-year-old James “Bubba” Blackwell attempted to jump over 12 brand new Dodge Darts provided by Wabash Valley Chrysler. The American motorcycle stunt rider came to Brandt’s to perform stunt shows on Friday June 13 and Saturday June 14 for his fans in the Wabash area.
To some, Blackwell is known as “The King of Harley,” as he is the only man to beat both Evel Knievel’s car and bus jump records. Knievel’s record was flying over 19 Dodge Colts, which Blackwell broke by one car on April 26, 1998. “The King of Harley” also broke Knievel’s bus record by leaping over 14 busses on his bike. Blackwell uses a Harley-Davidson XR-750 flat-track race motorcycle, which is the same bike that Knievel used when he set his record.
The XR-750 is painted with an American flag pattern on the side, which matches his infamous outfit. Blackwell’s suit is covered in red and blue flames coming from the legs and arms with white stars across the lower abdomen and legs. This ensemble is important to Blackwell’s show, as he wears it to accentuate who he is.
“Not only because it’s representative of an American-made motorcycle that I ride,” Blackwell said, “but I wear red, white, and blue because I’m a country boy that believes that America is the best place in the entire world.”
Blackwell’s jump in Wabash was one of a series of daredevil acts that the motorcyclist has been performing. On June 9, Blackwell embarked from Uke’s Harley-Davidson in Kenosha, Wisconsin to make the 224-mile trip to Wabash. After arriving at Brandt’s on that same day, Blackwell started to make preparations for the jump over 12 Dodge Darts. On June 9, the daredevil tweeted out, “100' of grass, 175' of pavement to the ramp "Cars" Landing ramp. 146' to stop... yeah, it'll be tight.” This was no average jump for Blackwell; it was a smaller space than he was used to, so getting up and over the cars while still being able to stop could be a challenge. He had to reach a speed of 80 mph in order to clear the cars and manage to stop within 146 feet of landing.
On June 13, motorcycle enthusiasts from around the state came to Wabash to watch Blackwell’s stunt show. The rider popped wheelies and did tricks on five different bikes, all Harley-Davidson. The bikes he used over the course of the 45-minute show were H-D XR-1200, H-D VRSC, H-D Super Glide, H-D FLHTCU, and H-D XR-750. The crowd cheered for every rev of the engines, every wheelie, and every burnout. Blackwell left Brandt’s parking lot with a few skid marks from the show, but wasn’t done yet.
Blackwell’s 12-car jump was on Saturday and the parking lot filled up early. On June 14, the day of the jump had arrived, and the crowd was roaring and ready for action. Young and old enthusiasts alike stood waiting for the daredevil to come out for the jump. Finally, at 4 p.m., Blackwell made his appearance.
Dressed in his red, white, and blue jumpsuit, and his helmet under his arm, Blackwell walked across the lot and started giving high fives out to the fans. After a quick address to the crowd, Blackwell got on the Harley-Davidson XR-750 and rode toward the corner of the lot. A few speed-practice runs later, the 47-year-old was ready to go. Blackwell rode off the concrete, and into the grassy area that Brandt’s had prepared as a runway. “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project played over the loudspeaker as Blackwell took a moment for a prayer. Blackwell gave the final thumbs-up and revved his engine twice. The XR-750 then sped down the runway towards the ramp and Bubba Blackwell was airborne. In no more than a few seconds, Blackwell was back on the ground safely.
The high-flyer successfully made the jump and spoke to the crowd following the landing.
“It felt really good,” Blackwell said. “It was really bumpy up there. This motorcycle weighs almost 400 pounds so it’s really stiff; you feel just about every rock you run over. I had no speedometer; I had no way of gauging how fast I was going. But I’ve got to tell you, I still love doing this.”
After this quick speech to the crowd, Bubba pulled out his cell phone and called his wife and daughters to tell them he successfully made the jump.
Even despite a life-changing crash on July 4, 2001, Blackwell still rides with the support of his family. In his most recent YouTube video, Blackwell recounts this crash.
“I think if I would have been a fraction slower I wouldn’t be here talking to you,” he says in the video. “I had bleeding in the brain. They didn’t know if I was ever going to wake up again.”
With the support of his family, Blackwell made it through rehabilitation and back onto the bike. The stunt-rider does what he does for his family and the fans that surround him.
“The love and adoration that you get from total strangers is a wonderful thing,” Blackwell said, “but it doesn’t compare to what you get from your family.”
After 20 years of being a stunt rider, Blackwell is still making weekly shows for companies across the country. On March 10, 2014, Blackwell premiered in the television show “Heirs to the Dare” on the Discovery Channel that featured Blackwell, Henry Rife, and Super Joe Reed. The show followed the stunt performers as “heirs” to Evel Knievel’s stunt acts.