Wild Wheels Thrill Arena
Text by Casey Paquet
The Wall of Death, or Motordrome, is a uniquely American invention, a notch in our collective belt of finding faster and more furious ways to entertain the masses. Born from the ashes of the wildly dangerous motorcycle board track racing, an enterprising entrepreneur brought the first motordrome to a carnival setting in 1911 Coney Island. A short 4 years later the stakes were increased when the first true Wall of Death, containing completely vertical sections of wall, made it’s debut in Buffalo, NY.
A Wall of Death is an oddity on the carnival, a place known more for its tricks, decoys, gimmicks, and dishonesty - nothing is ever what it seems. The Wall, however, stands alone in stark, unadorned truth. Patrons brave enough to climb to the top of the wall to watch an exhilarating show are seeing exactly what has been advertised, the laws of gravity and logic beaten not by any trick, but instead by nerves of steel and raw horsepower.
By the 1930’s there were hundreds of wall riders performing at Motordromes all over the world. Just as the carnivals they called home, however, time was not so kind and by the 1980’s and beyond there were only a handful of walls that had escaped the scrap pile, victims of the dizzying variety of alternate forms of entertainment. In 2015 there were only 3 wall shows traveling in the US - until an unlikely trio converged in Largo, FL to tackle the unbelievable task of building their own Wall of Death.
There are no plans for building a Wall of Death - no blueprints, no kits to purchase, no jigs, special tools, or online stores that carry parts. These three kindred spirits, all of whom had earned their wings on other Walls, began talking, sketching, mocking up, and otherwise trying to deconstruct a secret that no one had spoken of in nearly 100 years. It was an impossible task, one that required expertise in physics, engineering, welding, woodwork, machining, and a million other trades and tactics. With the support of friends they’d collected over the years, 10 months later they had succeeded - building only the fourth Wall still left in the US.
The crew was just as unlikely as their audacious Wall. Dallas Dan is a machinist by trade, which has served him well in his years of building and maintaining antique Indian motorcycles. Dan never set out to ride the wall, he was initially content simply maintaining the bikes - but eventually the call of the boards was too much and he was on his way.
Jake “Cyclone” Wheeler, on the other hand, was practically built for the wall. His combined loves of BMX stunt riding and building his own custom art bikes gave him the guts, and the skills, to join the team.
Samantha Stardust, an entertainer through and through, found her way from the worlds of sideshow and burlesque. Much like the female riders who came before her, the thought of making a name in the largely male world of the Wall got her onto the boards.
The team’s primary goal is to bring the Wall back to where it was born - amongst the shows and entertainment spectacles of the carnival. Without the assistance of any heavy lifting equipment, and performing every part themselves (from truck driver to bike crew to ticket sales to emcee), they are fighting hard to keep an American tradition alive.
There's no replacement for the thrill of experiencing a Wall of Death in person, but videographer Tyler Sutter (a sideshow oddity himself as part of the 20 Penny Circus) captured the sensation in the below video. He climbed inside, outside, above, and below the arena to capture some amazing angles.