For a world record holder, Alex Harvill is doing a lot of dirty work.
Harvill, his father and a friend have spent several Saturdays operating heavy machinery, molding a launch pad and landing space for the next spectacle.
The Ephrata native set the mark for longest motorcycle jump on flat-level ground May 12, 2012, with a jaw-dropping 425-foot run, and now he is prepping for his next stunt — a 300-foot dirt-to-dirt jump at Horn Rapids Motor Sports Complex in Richland on Saturday. If he pulls it off, it will be his second record in 14 months.
The motocross racer’s stunt jumping career sprouted wings last May. He launched into the air at 105 miles per hour, soared past the helicopter filming him and landed perfectly, smashing the previous record of 391 feet, set by Ryan Cappes in 2008.
More than 30 spectators witnessed the feat — which took place at Toe’s Motocross in Royal City — including a crew of professional filmers and a photographer. ESPN interviewed Harvill and wrote about the jump about two months later. Yet here is Harvill, nearly 14 months after risking his life for a stunt he thought would turn the motocross world upside down, building his own ramps and doing everything he can to self-promote the next jump.
The 20-year-old expected big things from the mystifying spectacle last May: notoriety, sponsorships and an influx of gear to support his career and allow him to continue stunt jumping. As of now, he hasn’t seen much in the way of fame or fortune and hasn’t landed any major sponsorships.
“I was promised a lot, and nothing’s really come of it,” he said.
Everything is on hold, at least for now.
The footage of the jump, shot using two Red Epic cameras and one Red One camera (equipment that’s retail price ranges into five figures), hasn’t gone viral, and there’s no video evidence publicly available. The filmers, Jay Schweitzer and Mike McEntire of Powerband Films based in Santa Barbara, Calif.,are holding the footage for an upcoming documentary, “The Daredevil Project,” a film they’ve poured countless hours of work and their life savings into over the span of eight years. Schweitzer hopes to have the film ready by October for the Sundance Film Festival.
Until then, Harvill’s left with a record that’s subject for debate.
“The (ESPN) article’s out there and whatnot, but it’s almost like it didn’t happen because no one’s actually seen it,” he said. “That’s been the tough part for the last year.”
“It crushed the record by so much that I do think people are skeptical of it,” Jeff Harvill, Alex’s father, added.
Harvill’s spent much of the past year racing and believes the documentary (which will include his Saturday jump in Richland) will significantly raise his stock and make him an attractive target for brands like Red Bull and Monster.
Schweitzer, who arrived in Washington on Wednesday, is banking on the upcoming documentary exploding as well.
“It’ll help Alex out huge,” he said. “I think this movie, in some capacity, is going to revitalize daredevil jumping, long distance jumping, whatever you want to call it. And it’s going to put Alex Harvill, whoever, on the map.”
Schweitzer flew in from California last May after he heard about Harvill’s plan to set the 425-foot mark.
At the time, Harvill sought to keep the jump a secret under the recommendation of Steve Eilers, who owns Toe’s Motocross Park, where Harvill made the jump.
The thinking then was to keep the jump quiet to prevent other distance jumpers from attempting a bigger gap.
Now with the secret (sort of) out and Harvill seeking sponsorship, he wants the world to know about his feats.
The lifetime motocross racer is breaking his back and the bank. He estimated diesel fuel alone to power the heavy machinery for this weekend’s jump will cost at least $5,000. But the belief is that the short-term expenditure will bring a healthy bounty.
“That’s the only way to do it,” he said. “You have to start somewhere. You have to make a name for yourself. I think if I can pull a successful event off on my own, doing it myself, then why wouldn’t someone want to do an event with me later on? And I believe it’s only going to get easier from here. I think this is the toughest thing right here.”
Harvill’s time on a bike pre-dates his first memories.
Jeff Harvill used to take Alex trail riding in the Methow Valley when he was as young as 2. Alex would fall asleep on the handlebars.
Alex began riding a bicycle without training wheels when he was 4 and competed in his first dirt-bike race at age 5.
He graduated to a KX 60 dirt bike at age 7, which took him about a year to master.
“Once he figured that out, he started doing jumps on that bike that adults wouldn’t do on their bikes,” Jeff said.
Alex started building ramps at a park in Ephrata, some of which are still there.
“The things that used to disappear from our house was shovels,” said Debi Chamberlin, Alex’s mother.
He constantly tested his limits, pushed them and repeated the process over and over again. He wiped out his fair share of times, but the spills never deterred or frightened him.
Alex played football, golfed and wrestled, but motocross took precedent at about age 15 — he was riding on an adult-sized bike by that point.
Surprisingly enough, his first official run at daredevil jumping didn’t come until the big leap last May, but years of tinkering with ramps at the local park and racing competitively have set the stage perfectly for a career in death-defying stunts.
“Alex has an advantage because he grew up racing,” Schweitzer said.
People ask Harvill about his seemingly reckless passion all the time, if he thinks about death, if he ever dwells on any of the many things that could go wrong when he’s suspended in air. Rather than fret over death or contemplate a malfunction, Harvill exercises unflappable optimism and focuses on a series of minor details to ensure his safety. For Harvill, believing is becoming.
“If you think about it, it’s going to happen,” he said. “If you think about failing, then you’re going to fail, so you always think about succeeding … Where the head goes, the body will follow.”
“He just has a good attitude all the time, and I think that’s a big part of it,” said Kevin J. Salisbury, who’s worked for free as a photographer and built Harvill’s website.
That’s not to say nothing can go wrong. Australian distance jumper Tyrone Gilks died in March during a practice run, which actually hindered Harvill in his quest to obtain sponsorship, he said.
Jeff Harvill, a lifelong motocross enthusiast, still gets nervous every time his son jumps, but he knows there’s no stopping Alex.
Although Harvill’s been busy organizing everything and building the ramps, he’s had some help. Aside from Jeff Harvill, Darren Burlock has volunteered his time to help build the spectacle.
Western States Equipment, located in Pasco, donated the use of a Caterpillar, a loader, a roller and a water cooker for the project, Evo Suspension of Ellensburg helped with Alex’s suspension system and Scott Price of Wyvern Motorsports in Ventura, Calif., is sponsoring Harvill.
After all the help, it’s still not enough to cover the high costs, though.
Harvill is following protocol to have his new record submitted to Guinness World Records.
Assuming everything goes according to plan, Harvill will set his first official record. And at 20, he’s way ahead of schedule.
“The pace he’s setting right now, it’s beyond anyone I’ve ever heard of,” Salisbury said.
It could be the just the beginning.