What’s the longest wheelie you’ve ever pulled on a motorcycle? Fifty feet? A football field? Perhaps a full mile?
Doug Domokos, aka the Wheelie King, rode a bike for 145 miles without letting the front tire even so much as dab the pavement. That was a Guinness World Record, one he set in 1984 at Talladega Superspeedway aboard a Honda dirt bike that he modified for sustained one-wheel travel.
The year before, the Wheelie King played like King Kong, riding on one wheel at the top of the Empire State Building — a stunt he termed the World’s Tallest Wheelie, although there’s no account of that being a bona fide world record. At the least, we should consider it a bona fide “tall tale,” one that afforded him further acclaim within the motorcycle community at the time.
But whether he was setting wheelie world records, or simply playing around in a parking lot, Domokos proved to be an especially colorful and charismatic character. He first rose to national prominence in 1978 when, prompted by Kawasaki factory team motocross racer “Jammin’ Jimmy” Weinert, Kawasaki Motor Corp. agreed to support the young man from Michigan with modified KX250 dirt bikes and a pickup truck. Armed with first-class equipment, Domokos set out to showcase his talent at Supercross races, among other venues, during the coming months. As the story goes, famed Supercross promoter Mike Goodwin once bet Domokos that he couldn’t wheelie the entire distance of the Anaheim SX course, considered to be among the premier tracks on the schedule. One lap later the Wheelie King collected a cool $10,000 from Goodwin.
Domokos also was an innovator. To assist his own natural sense of balance, he rigged an electric motor inside his bike’s front hub to keep the wheel spinning forward after lofting it into the air. The gyroscopic stability it provided helped Domokos perform tricks that delighted crowds around the world. His fan base included the Emperor of Japan, and he was a celebrity in Europe as well, often taking his show to the streets of Continental cities that invited him to perform for the public. He also was an enthusiastic supporter of charity events, donating not only money and his riding talents to charity, but his time to visit patients in hospitals.
I once asked Domokos if popping wheelies was tough to do. He replied, “Practically anybody can do a wheelie. The trick is keeping it [the front wheel] up for a long period of time.”
Sadly, the Wheelie King’s wheelie shows came to an abrupt end, Nov. 26, 2000, when he, along with his flight instructor, lost their lives in an ultralight plane crash. Both were killed on impact. Two years later the Wheelie King, fittingly, was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame.
— Dain Gingerelli