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Chapter 2: El Gringo Loco

Gary Wells

Photo Credit: GaryWells.com

From an early age, Gary Wells loved to go fast.

He started racing go-karts at the age of 3, winning state championships in Arizona, Nevada and Utah before retiring from the sport to trade 4 wheels for 2 and start his motorcycle racing career at 10 years old.

His first professional jump came at the age of 14 and in his second-ever public appearance, in front of 23,000 fans, he broke the World Outdoor Motorcycle Jump Record by flying 155 feet-10 inches, besting the legendary Evel Knievel.  This set the stage for a long-running career that would see Wells performing all over the US, Canada, Mexico and even Australia where he competed in - and won - that country's first ever long-distance motorcycle jumping championship, breaking his own world record by jumping 176 feet-6 inches.

Gary Wells' record-breaking jump in Australia, 1980

Photo Credit: GaryWells.com

Flash forward to September 15, 1980...

Slightly less than 13 years after Evel Knievel's spectacular crash on the Las Vegas Strip, Gary Wells found himself standing in the exact same spot.

As a ride who'd already broken several of Knievel's records, it just seemed natural that Wells would take a run at the Fountains of Caesars Palace.  The jump was set to be filmed for the popular TV show, "That's Incredible" and would be featured on network television across the United States and around the world.

Before the jump, a confident Wells told a reporter, "To see Evel Knievel crash didn't bother me.  I just assumed he didn't know what he was doing because he wasn't successful."

Gary Wells at Caesars Palace with Muhammad Ali (left) and Joe Namath (right)

Photo Credit: GaryWells.com

The morning of jump day, Gary was up at 6am and out front of Caesars Palace working with his crew to ensure his ramps were properly in place and things looked good for the stunt.

6 hours later, decked out in his famous red tuxedo, Wells rode into position to prepare for the jump.  After taking 5 approach runs to gauge his speed & distance, Gary revved up his bike, released the brakes, accelerated to 85 miles per hour and sped towards the take-off ramp...

In spite of the near fatal accident at Caesars Palace and doctors saying it could be upwards of a year before he could return to riding, Wells was back on his bike again within 5 months of the accident.  He went on a nationwide tour and followed that up with a performance during the Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix in Rio Di Janeiro.

Gary went on to have a lengthy career jumping motorcycles, touring extensively through Latin America.  He was performing jumps as recently as 2014, with his last big jump happening on September 12 of that year when he jumped over 12 semi-trucks at the Colorado National Speedway.

Gary spent his later years living in Sonora, Mexico where he was affectionately known as "El Gringo Loco" - or "the crazy white man".  He guided off-road motorcycle tours in the area and opened his own RV park.

Sadly, just a little over a month before the 40th Anniversary of his jump at Caesars Palace, Gary passed away on August 6, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona at the age of 63.

Gary Wells, mid-jump over the fountains at Caesars Palace...September 15, 1980

Photo Credit: GaryWells.com