Like a lot of Gen Xers, Steve Darnell grew up playing with Evel Knievel toys as a kid. As an adult, he still plays with them except now these toys are the real deal. The legendary daredevil’s Formula 1 Dragster is the ultimate plaything for the Welder Up crew on the season premiere of “Vegas Rat Rods.”
“It was a lot of work to just get it up and running,” Darnell admits. “One night while we were rebuilding it, we had a problem with the starter and I said if this car fires up I’m gonna wheelie the shit out of this.”
Darnell, 46, and his gang have transformed at least 50 vehicles or what’s left of them into metal monsters and distinctive steel wheels in his custom shop in Sin City.
Getting the motor to fire up again in Knievel’s red, white, and blue dragster was no small feat—its original motor is rumored to have ended up in one lucky roller’s boat.
“I found out about the car a while ago and then I kind of threw it out there that I wanted to see the car,” said Darnell. “So Kelly [Knievel] got wind of that and he said ‘hey, why don’t you come over and look at the car and maybe do something with it.’”
It was baking out in the sun for a long time and we all know what Mother Nature can do to a neglected ride.
“The last time I heard it actually drove was sometime in the mid-seventies, maybe the eighties. I heard a couple of different stories since I’ve had it,” said Darnell.
But every once in a while you find something that is just so cool with so much history you have to go out and mess around with it—especially something as unique as this.
“It sat in the desert for I don’t know how long without a cover on it, but then again its scratches really tell a story. It was an iconic toy… guys in their late 40s and 50s remember those toys,” he said.
“I thought it was really cool to get it up and running again and to sit in the seat that Evel Kneviel sat in and to actually do a wheelie in this thing down Las Vegas Boulevard… it was crazy man, it was overwhelming and it felt good. You know, a little emotional too at the same time.”
We are totally jealous. Tune into the show to see how the crew helped him resurrect the ultimate daredevils’ machine so that it could roar down the Las Vegas Strip for the fourth season’s big opener.
Darnell’s recent grad sons Chase and Kash join the cast full-time and hone their rat rod skills with dad and team members Travis Deeter, Merlon Johnson, Justin Kramer, and Dave Lefler.
Also featured on the new episode is a 1958 Chevy Apache panel truck that’s transformed into a Vintage Dirt Bike Hauler. The Darnell clan are hardcore dirt bikers when they are not blowtorching metal, smoking tires, or hunting for new projects.
Darnell admits that he has at least 20 BSA, Maico, and Husqvarna motorcycles in his living room at home.
“All of us in here ride, my kids race motorcycles—we all ride for fun.”
The new vintage hauler has everything you need for a mobile dirt bike shop for a weeklong excursion in the middle of nowhere. Too cool.
Tune in to “Vegas Rat Rods” on Monday, October 1 at 10pm ET/PT on Discovery. Check out new episodes every Monday night at the same time and also on Tuesdays at 9pm ET/PT. Catch previous episodes on MotorTrend.com as well as the Discovery GO app.