Evel Knievel started life as Robert Craig Knievel. He was born in 1938 and raised by his grandparents in Butte, Mont. His parents split when he was young and had little contact with him.
According to many interviews Knievel gave, he was rechristened "Evil Knievel" by local police officers who arrested him for stealing hubcaps when he was young. Later, Knievel legally changed his name to Evel, switching the "i" for an "e" because "he thought it looked better" [source: Severo].
Knievel's early brushes with the law show that his daredevil side showed itself early, but not always productively. He claimed that he stole his first motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson, when he was just 13 and was inspired by Joie Chitwood, a legendary stunt-car driver. Still Knievel wasn't someone who stood out only because he acted up. He was also an accomplished high school athlete and a professional and semi-pro hockey player. In the 1950s, he enlisted as a paratrooper in the army and made more than 30 jumps.
His professional daredevil days began when he started running a motorcycle shop in Washington state. To attract customers, Knievel said he started jumping things on his motorcycle. His first jump saw him clear 40 feet (12.2 meters) of parked cars; however, he didn't go quite far enough as he landed on the box of rattlesnakes (just in front of the tethered mountain lion) at the end of the line. The jump led him to form a group of motorcycle stuntmen which crisscrossed the western United States before striking out on his own. For his first large-scale solo jump, Knievel announced that he would jump the fountains in front of the Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.
On New Years Eve, 1967, Knievel and his bike mounted a ramp in front of Ceasars Palace and 15,000 spectators. He had to clear 151 feet (46 meters). As he revved his engine, he said his customary prayer: "God, take care of me. Here I come…" and with that, he and his motorcycle shot into the air.