Evel Knievel in 2001. Getty Images

One of a kind: Legendary Evel Knievel leathers, cane up for auction

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If you ask the question, “who’s the greatest racing driver of all-time?” you’ll likely get one of maybe five or six answers. It could be Andretti, Foyt, Senna, Schumacher or Earnhardt. Or perhaps another 10 or 12 others.

But if you ask the question, “who’s the greatest daredevil of all-time?” the answer settles on one near-unanimous answer: Evel Knievel.

In a seriously unique opportunity as put together by Heritage Auctions, a couple items from the one-of-a-kind daredevil’s gear from his iconic career go up for auction for the first time ever.

One set of Knievel’s worn leathers and his singular, trademark cane are available for bid through February 25. Further details are available via Knievel’s website, http://www.evelknievel.com, and the auction website, http://www.ha.com.

Photo courtesy HA Auctions
Photo courtesy HA Auctions

The leathers feature Knievel’s signature “American flag” design, adorned with initials and with some “road rash” evidence present. Meanwhile the cane – or walking stick – is diamond-studded and was more or less attached to Knievel for his appearances.

Providing the opportunity for collectors to acquire these items is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and for Knievel’s son Kelly, who is president of K&K Promotions and Evel’s oldest son (younger son Robbie also entered into the family business), it was better to give fans a chance to embrace them rather than have them just sitting collecting dust.

“What are we supposed to do? Be buried with them?” Kelly Knievel laughed, when speaking to NBC Sports. “There’s a time now for someone who’s a collector to bid for them, and have them where they can be seen.

“My dad had many sets of leathers… but they’re either gone, or in a museum, or he’d crash and they’d have to cut the leathers up. Since they were one piece leathers, he’d crash and go to the hospital and they would cut off. This one didn’t have to be cut. It has the scrapes from the crashes.

Photo courtesy HA Auctions
Photo courtesy HA Auctions

“And that cane never left my dad’s hands. He got that cane after his jump at Caesar’s Palace in the late ’60s, and had it until he died. There’s a lot of baseball cards, Super Bowl rings, and jerseys… but there’s only one Evel Knievel and only one cane. This cane has the hollow bottom with the liquor flask. I’m certain it’s the most famous cane on the face of the earth… and it will only increase in value as time goes on.

“It’s like the king’s scepter. It’s like Julius Caesar’s scepter. I think it’s one of the rarest pieces of American pop culture that exists.”

Knievel says he’s not sure what the items will fetch for but indicated that because this is the first time these items are up for bid, they’ll be higher as more years pass.

“I have no idea what it’ll get, but whoever gets it, it’s far underpriced compared to its significance and investment value,” he explained. “The first time something is auctioned… Marilyn Monroe’s dress I believe went for $50,000… and it just sold now for $4.8 million. Whoever gets this cane and set of leathers, it’s a bargain of a lifetime. So it’s the rarest diamond out there!”

For Knievel, growing up the son of a legend provided an incredible opportunity to live a firsthand account as his dad essentially created the extreme sports genre.

In a world now where it’s harder to stand out with simple events – it’s such a saturated sports marketplace – Knievel’s Q rating and impact via ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” almost stands as unparalleled.

Kelly Knievel reflects: “I was 8 (years old) when he jumped at Caesar’s Place – so I was 8 to 16 years old growing up as he was starting out. When you’re a kid, you don’t really have perspective on it. My dad was very high energy. It wasn’t a fake deal. It was Evel Knievel at the breakfast table. He was very ambitious and had a big imagination, but he was a giant man of character. When you’re a kid how would you know it’s any different?

“The only thing I can compare – my other friends’ dads went to work, and my dad did whatever I wanted. That’s how it seemed to me. I don’t know if it’s entirely accurate!”

He also reflected on his favorite jump his dad pulled off.

“It was at Kings Island, where he jumped the Greyhound buses. He went to England that summer… and jumped 13 double decker buses. He crashed, broke his hips and a bunch of bones. He announced to the crowd he’d retire… probably in shock and pain, and then woke up in the hospital, came back to U.S., added one more bus and jumped further and made it. That is a feat of courage and imagination.

“When he landed, the frame of Harley Davidson broke in half and he hung on!”

Knievel discussed how big a deal the “Wide World of Sports” shows were.

“To put it into perspective, on ABC World Wide of Sports, my dad had four of the top 10 shows, including the No. 1 show on ‘Wide World of Sports’ in history,” he explained.

“There’s a Q study – so a measure of name recognition – and in the ’70s, my dad was the most recognized name in the world. There’s a Q study done for deceased celebrities… and he has a 99.5% recognition level.

“The event of extreme sports is such that there’s all these young kids, who know Evel Knievel through the advent of extreme sports. So it connects the generations that way. Guys like Tony Hawk, Travis Pastrana, and Robbie Maddison, their inspiration was Evel Knievel.”

He said timing was everything for his dad’s success. His dad passed away in 2007.

“The situation was the same in the ‘70s, but my dad was so unique. He came up with his own thing. He had that much imagination and creativity. I don’t think it’s a function of time… it’s a person at the right time. It takes a person to do something that spectacular. He invented his own persona.

“I think (extreme sports) would exist… but as a symbol, it was a case where he was coming out of nowhere and captured the public’s imagination. Like a lighting rod.”

You can’t get the lightning rod, but you can get the next closest thing with that walking stick. And those leathers, which are still in one piece.

The man himself. Photo courtesy HA Auctions
The man himself. Photo courtesy HA Auctions

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne