BUTTE — A struggle for control over a festival that draws thousands of stuntmen, wannabes and fans paying homage to Evel Knievel in his Montana hometown has led organizers to turn over the event to the famous daredevil’s family.
Chad Harrington, executive director of Evel Knievel Week Inc., said the group decided Tuesday night to cut ties with the Evel Knievel Days event.
“Our committee, by no means, wants to hinder or impede the direction that your family would like to go with Evel Knievel Days and the Evel Knievel name,” Harrington’s committee wrote in a letter to Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Matt Vincent, who is married to Knievel’s daughter.
Kelly Knievel, Evel’s oldest son, said he was “committed to having another successful festival this July.”
But one unnamed, out-of-state sponsor already has pulled out over the dispute, Harrington said, which raises questions about the future of the three-day celebration of stunts, jumps and feats.
Knievel was a flamboyant motorcycle stuntman who jumped lines of cars and buses, and attempted to hurdle sharks, canyons and just about anything else. He died in 2007, five years after the first Evel Knievel Days was held in Butte.
The dispute over the festival began when Kelly Knievel sought a new licensing agreement with Butte-Silver Bow County for the use of his father’s name, which the family owns.
He said he had concerns about the organizing committee’s finances and whether it has followed bylaws and its reporting requirements, The Montana Standard reported.
Harrington said the group has followed the rules, provided detailed financial reports to the county and welcomes anyone to audit its books.
About the time Kelly Knievel sought the new licensing agreement, the county asked organizers to sign an operating agreement that it said was meant to ensure accountability and stability.
Harrington said the group had an agreement that was good through next year.
Last week, Kelly Knievel left Harrington an expletive-laced voicemail threatening to contact the IRS and the attorney general and audit previous contracts if he didn’t sign the agreement.
“You’re gonna sign that agreement with Butte-Silver Bow, and you’re going to move along as the director of the committee and change your ways, or I am going to destroy you,” Knievel said. Knievel confirmed to the Standard that he left the messages.
On Monday, Kelly Knievel withdrew his request for the licensing agreement and said the Knievel family would try to form a new nonprofit corporation to conduct this year’s festival and run it “with complete transparency and accountability.”
Vincent said Wednesday the issue had become a “media circus” created by a few members of the committee and Knievel.
“I hoped that level heads would prevail in resolving the issues, and that obviously has not happened,” Vincent said in a letter to commissioners.
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