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Nik Wallenda puts fear on stage in drive-in Sarasota stunt show

For the next two weekends, daredevils from the X Games and Nitro Circus join the famous high-wire walker at a park.
Stunt performers put on a show Friday at Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally. It is the creation of high wire star and Sarasota resident Nik Wallenda. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. I runs through June 21.
Stunt performers put on a show Friday at Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally. It is the creation of high wire star and Sarasota resident Nik Wallenda. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. I runs through June 21. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jun. 13, 2020
Updated Jun. 13, 2020

The debut of Nik Wallenda’s Daredevil Rally on Friday revived the ghost of drive-in movies, with kids snuggled in a nest of blankets in the back of pickup trucks with radios tuned to the show’s audio. It also had the whiff of the dearly departed Ringling circus that called Sarasota its hometown.

It’s Wallenda’s hometown, too, and this is the first time the famous high-wire walker has performed for a local audience. He’s practiced in this park before but never performed there. When the coronavirus shut down live entertainment and performing arts halls, Wallenda had the connections to contact some of the best stunt performers in the business from the X Games and Nitro Circus. They, like him, were out of work for the foreseeable future.

Nik Wallenda speaks to the crowd before his high-wire walk during the Daredevil Rally, his own self produced show. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota.
Nik Wallenda speaks to the crowd before his high-wire walk during the Daredevil Rally, his own self produced show. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

For the next two weekends, Nathan Benderson Park, next to the upscale University Town Center shopping district near Lakewood Ranch, is bringing in an audience to park in a checkerboard pattern and watch a human cannonball and dirt bikers flip and fly.

“I know it’s hot, so let’s make some noise,” the show’s emcee, who goes by the stage name Johnny Rockett, said in his welcome. He was rewarded with applause and a chorus of honking car horns from an audience propped in lawn chairs and in the cabs of cars blasting the air-conditioning.

A utility vehicle roved the 15 rows of minivans and cars, stocked with popcorn, Icees and cotton candy. Fair-like food stands sold funnel cakes, hamburgers and tacos to walk-up customers. Organizers are still working on a system to text food orders to be delivered to cars, but it wasn’t working on opening night.

Cars were spaced out in every other spot to watch Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally which is the creation of high wire star and Sarasota resident Nik Wallenda. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota.
Cars were spaced out in every other spot to watch Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally which is the creation of high wire star and Sarasota resident Nik Wallenda. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

It was like tailgating at the circus. But instead of clowns and animals, you watched motorcycles ride around the inside of a steel globe while a pretty girl stood in the middle. And you marveled as the human cannonball, also known as David “The Bullet” Smith, flew across the sky in an orange jumpsuit.

The view from the very last row wasn’t bad, though you needed the radio tuned in at that point because the big speakers were out of earshot. And even in the front rows, it felt like the stage should have been 10 feet higher to get a full view of the action.

BMX stunt riders perform at Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally during opening night at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday, June 12, 2020 in Sarasota.
BMX stunt riders perform at Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally during opening night at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday, June 12, 2020 in Sarasota. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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Nik Wallenda walks the high wire  65 feet off the ground for a 300-foot walk during his self produced Daredevil Rally. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota.
Nik Wallenda walks the high wire 65 feet off the ground for a 300-foot walk during his self produced Daredevil Rally. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Nik Wallenda, who has been shown on national television walking a high wire over the Grand Canyon and downtown Chicago, took his perch in a sparkly silver and black striped jersey.

"I called my friends when this all came down and said, ‘Let’s do a socially distance-friendly performance,’ " Wallenda said. A stunt show is a perfect metaphor, he said before prancing across a wire 65 feet off the ground for a 300-foot walk, “because I think our society is gripped by fear right now.

"We need to face the fear.”

Fans watch stunt performers during Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally which is the creation of high wire star and Sarasota resident Nik Wallenda. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. It runs through June 21.
Fans watch stunt performers during Nik Wallenda's Daredevil Rally which is the creation of high wire star and Sarasota resident Nik Wallenda. The socially distant drive-in stunt show's opening night was held at Nathan Benderson Park on Friday in Sarasota. It runs through June 21. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

If you go

Daredevil Rally: High-wire star Nik Wallenda performs along with renowned daredevil performers from the X Games and Nitro Circus, including dirt bike freestyle jumpers, BMX riders, motorcycles in a steel globe and a human cannonball.

Show times: 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday and also next week at 6:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. June 20, 1 and 5 p.m. June 21. Nathan Benderson Park, 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota.

Tickets: $20, $70 family six pack. (917) 921-9070. daredevilrally.com.