It's a sunny day in June in the San Fernando Valley. This is the heart of Knievel Country in Southern California. And if the showroom at Galpin Ford looks like a hangar for a new NASA test craft, it's thanks to the custom truck dedicated to the guest of honor: the Evel Knievel Galpinized Ford F-150 Gladiator.

Inside the showroom, fathers place their toddlers on the table to play gimme five with the original American Gladiator. The first thing you notice is his weight, a sturdy 178 pounds, 25 better than the lean years. Evel has his color back. He's in a positive state of mind, at ease and simpatico with his fans while his bodyguards stay vigilant. He's feeling good and it feels good to be back in business.

There's a reverb of excitement as the faithful from San Diego to Las Vegas to San Jose prepare to shake his hand and break out a photo, toy, helmet, bicycle, comic book or record album for their hero's mark. Most have no idea how close they recently came to looking up over a bowl of cereal to find the King of the Daredevils headlining the obituary columns of every paper in the nation.

Instead, in an astonishing reversal, their man is making news on the business page. He's in the driver's seat for a commercial renaissance, working the American highways with his dog Rocket, his RV and his trailer. He's got his new Galpin truck, and he's partnering with the folks who control the MGM casino group to open the massive new Evel Knievel Experience at Primm, Nevada for Spring 2003.

Evel and his partners are betting you'll stop an hour short of Vegas at the California state line and plug in at the new casino, sports bar and entertainment center. That's where the cycle legend will be showcasing 35 years of machinery and archives and putting his fans inside advanced motion simulator rides that recreate his most famous jumps and crashes.

Evel's a rich man now, improbably healthy, independent, divorced - basically everything he wasn't only a few short years ago. So now the question hangs over the heads of his friends and foes alike. Why jump again, Evel? Why now, after a miracle turnaround, a biblical deliverance, a gift from God, would you tempt fate and put yourself right back in the firing line?

It's the return of an unkind word that dogs a daredevil all his born days: "Why?"

Chapter Six: The Final Frontier>>

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