Thunder Roads Ohio
July 22, 2020
Daring to Dream
Doug Danger is an easy guy to like. His humble persona is pleasing. He’s for all the right things, like sending a positive message to children, dreaming big, and working towards achieving that dream, his love of god and country. He comes from a time when a man’s word actually meant something. Then you hear about his death defying crash that almost left him for dead, and at best a recovery that would result in no memory and limited physical functionality. You hear about him defying the odds once again to battle and beat stage 4 cancer. The legend grows. Then you hear about him setting the world record for the longest jump on a motorcycle. Then numerous other feats like holding the 125cc, 250cc, and 500cc distance records. The longest jump ever recorded on a Harley Davidson. You really can’t say enough about a guy like that. To me though, the biggest feather in the cap of someone of this stature, is to be standing on top of launch ramp, with the landing ramp nearly a football field away, a strong breeze in the air, thinking that he probably won’t make it, but the crowd expects him to jump, and so does he. Backing down the ramp, reving the engine, and letting it rip. This is the stuff of legends.
I caught up with Doug Senacal a.k.a. Doug Danger on the phone while he was en-route to a series of book signings back in his old stomping grounds up the east coast. I had just finished reading his book “Doug Danger. Dare To Dream. From Tragedy to Triumph, A Daredevil’s ride” by 15 Rules Publishing, and had a series of questions to ask him.
The book is an engaging story of his life, his triumphs, his defeats, and his amazing ability to overcome obstacles, and to bounce back from significant knockdowns along the way. It’s an incredibly uplifting story, and it’d make a great fiction book, except for one thing. It’s a true story. After reading this book, if it doesn’t move and inspire you, then I do not know what will.
The book takes you along his entire life from 5 years old as a kid learning to ride a bicycle to doing these insane motorcycle jumps and through his health and life issues. His dream as a child began by jumping bicycles on junky homemade ramps. After a particularly heinous wreck, which his mom witnessed, she took him down to the local lumber yard with instructions “if you’re going to do this crap behind my back, I at least want to make sure do it right, go buy whatever you need to do this right”. Nothing like motherly love. He progressed to jumping at the fair, and moved on to public jumps in other towns.
As a young kid Doug saw Evel Knievel’s famous Ceasars Palace jump, which probably goes down as one of the greatest crashes of all time due to the nature of the accident, as well as the amazing film footage which was picked up by news outlets world wide propelling Evel into the public eye. Doug later saw Evel jump again at Holy Cross’ Field in Worcester, MA as a spectator. Doug went for an interview with the Joey Chitwood Thrill Show in Florida. Where he was trying to land a job as a motorcycle daredevil. Evel had a jump planned there a week later. Doug saw Evel’s bus parked, and went over and struck up a conversation with Robbie Knievel. The two because friends and he was introduced to Evel, who offered Doug a job building ramps for his upcoming jump. At 18 or 19 years old, he is now working for the legendary Evel Knievel!
His world record jump, almost wasn’t. In 1991 Doug successfully jump 42 cars in Loudon, New Hampshire. After a review of his landing spot, he was a little short of the distance record. He had already been paid, the crowd had celebrated, and a few days later, with only a few onlookers, he kept doing the jump, stretching it out farther and farther until he came down so hard he busted his wrists. He did 6 jumps that day. On the 5th jump, he travelled 251 feet, breaking the record. On his 6th and final attempt he travelled 265 feet and broke his wrist and crashed on the landing so it didn’t count. Doug says “It meant the world to me, I was willing to die trying, I wanted that to set that record”.
Modern techniques have changed how jumps are performed. Today, equipment is better, with stronger, faster, lighter bikes, that have much more travel in the suspension. Having the ability to practice in a foam landing pits, and having the landing ramp higher than the take off ramp makes for a smoother less impactful landing. All of these improvements have allowed bikes to set new distance records.
Doug’s life story is a series of ups and downs. Setting the distance jumping record, put him on top of the world. Robbie Knievel, son of the Great Evel Knievel, and Doug were to have a nationally televised jump off with a big enough payday to set Doug up for life. He was doing a series of small jumps to stay sharp when the Hudson Speedway accident thrust him to one of the lowest spots of his life. Doug Danger crashed into a three-foot retaining wall at the speedway breaking 17 bones and remaining in a coma for over a month. When he recovered, his memory was gone.
Doug explains that during his crash at the Speedway, when he hit the wall, he distinctly remembers floating above the wreck, looking down and seeing this mangled body, and his father who passed away 3 weeks prior, screaming at him, “Get out of here, Get out of Here! It’s not your time.” If it wasn’t for a nurse in the stands, who tricked her way onto the infield immediately after the crash, Doug would not have survived. She provided much needed medical attention to a man without any vital signs.
The accident left him without any memory, without the ability to do everything that he had done before. Walking, eating, showering, getting dressed, all had to be relearned. Waking up in the morning, he just laid there, not knowing what he was suppose to do. He basically reverted back to the state of an infant. Over a few years things gradually came back as he relearned how to do everything.
Eager to get back to life, Doug worked as a sales person at a bike shop, the people who he previously trained were now his bosses, and since he was a shell of his former self, they treated him terribly, not fully understanding his diminished capacity. Struggling to adapt to the new way people treated him was a battle of its own. To go from a world record distance jumping hero, to a washed up, injured, has been, is an experience few people could work their way through.
After the bad wreck, he was at the point of his recovery where he was operating at about the age of an 11 year old. His wife said if you ever jump again “I am leaving you and taking the children”. He was torn between doing what he was made to do, and doing what most expected him to do. His mom encouraged him to start to try jumping again, and if his wife had an issue with it, to “Tell her not to let the door hit her ass on the way out”.
A long slow climb up off the mat ensued. He worked his way back to jumping. Doug went through years of mental abuse and pain. In everyones eyes Doug was thought to be stupid because he couldn’t do the things he once did, or remember how to function as he previously did. After the accident, the Dr’s called him a walking angel because he should have never made it. They told him to file for permanent disability and he refused, because it meant that he was giving up, and Doug Danger never gives up. It was difficult to go from being respected, admired and someone that kids looked up at, to someone who could barely function and was made fun of, picked on, and bullied.
His life was trending upwards. Then came the stage 4 cancer diagnosis, where he was told he had a 5% survival rate, then the treatment, back down to another low spot. The cancer was about a year of really tough hardship, and Doug thanks his wonderful 2nd wife Maria for pulling him through. The Doctor told Doug he had 3-6 months to live, and that he needed to get his affairs in order. In a hail mary attempt, with nothing to lose Doug tried an experimental chemotherapy treatment that was tough, but worked. Jumping helped prepare Doug for his cancer treatment. Mentally on every jump he convinces himself that he was going to land it, and having the same outlook at the start of chemo willed him through it. He believed he was going to make it, and against the odds he did.
After the painful and difficult cancer recovery, and starting to jump again, Doug finds himself looking at an original Evel Knievel jump bike. The owner lets him sit on it, and Doug says he felt the spirit of Evel enter his body, and tells the owner if you ever want to jump it, you let me know. A month later the call comes in to see if Doug is really interested in jumping the $350,000 bike. The owner wanted a short jump over a few cars. Doug convinced him that its gotta be 15 cars of better so not to insult Evel’s legacy. Woody from the Buffalo Chip reached out when he heard about it, and the jump site and world record goal was set. Doug would attempt to jump 22 cars at the Buffalo Chip Campground during the 75th Sturgis motorcycle rally on August 6, 2015.
The day of the jump Doug couldn’t get enough speed, no matter how much the bike was tuned and tweaked. The 900ft runway was not long enough. Finally another 500ft road was cleared back by the water tower, and Doug was able to come onto the runway with enough speed to reach the ramp with a legitimate change to make it. The jump was 151 feet long, and was a success, outpacing the Knievel attempt, which only cleared 21 cars. Doug states that “They say it was one of the 5 greatest jumps in history, and I know it was the best one I ever did.” Back on top.
Doug is a sought after motivational speaker and loves presenting to children and young adults. The message to children is a hard one to convey. You need to have a dream. “If you don’t have a dream, you don’t have a goal, if you don’t have a goal you have nothing in life going for you.” His unique life story really backs up that message.
His book “Doug Danger. Dare To Dream. From Tragedy to Triumph, A Daredevil’s ride” is available in paper and electronic format via Doug’s website dougdanger.net Its also available at all major booksellers.
So what next for Doug Danger? He’d like to do one more world record jump on Evel’s bike. That may or may not happen. The Evel Knievel museum is a little reluctant to take the risk of jumping it again. Travis Pastrana set the bus jumping record at 16, which was one more than Evel Knievel, and of course, Doug wants to go over 17.
That elusive high of jumping is hard to replace. You train and plan for a year. “Your whole life…it’s going to come down to 3 seconds in the air. When you let that clutch out, that’s the moment. This is it. Here it goes. In a matter of 30 seconds you are either going to be dead, a hero, or maimed. There’s a lot of pressure on you. You go and you stay focused and pull off what other people have not been able to do, and you land that thing, and there are 35,000 people going insane. There is not much in the world that can compare to that.” – Doug Danger