Janet Lee — United States
Jan started her stunt career in Texas after watching the Deathriders perform in the summer of 1973. It was at their third show that she was hired by stuntman Billy Ward after he heard her volunteer to get in the box with Danny Reed, aka "Mr. TNT", to be blown up. The first show she appeared in was June 22, 1973 doing precision driving. Over the next few months she would be crashing cars, driving though dynamite, being a human battering ram, crashing through ice and even having a head-on crash with another female driver.
After the 1975 season, Jan spent the winter in Phoenix, Arizona where she met Gary Wells. Before the year was out Jan traded a Ford Pinto to Gary for one of his CR250’s. She spent as much time as possible in the desert with it becoming proficient enough to start doing stunts.
Left: Jumping cars in Clovis, New Mexico on June 5, 1977. Right: Jumping motorcycles in Anthony, New Mexico on February 27, 1977.
In the 1976 show season, she did her first public jump in Mexicali. The bike that she was to use there did not have a speedometer. She did practice runs by the jump while someone else, rode another bike (with a speedometer) along side her to help her gauge her speed. At the time for the jump she just went for it. Her back wheel landed at the edge of the catch ramp leaving a small dent on the top. The season continued with more motorcycle jumps, bomb acts and car crashes throughout Arizona and Texas. Her next jump show would be at a Honda and Kawasaki Dealership on July 24, 1976. The promotion was a Grand Opening and she would jump over 60 motorcycles, twice. (See top right photo). Although both jumps went well the second was almost canceled due to rain. It was only a few minutes after the jump that the rain started.
Left: Warm up run before two jumps in Las Cruces, New Mexico on March 19, 1977. Right: Janet with her son Bill in December of 1976.
The 1977 season started in February with a benefit jump to raise money for the family of a police officer who had been killed in the line of duty. Most of the shows now were motorcycle jumps and the crew had been reduced to only two stunt people. One of those jumps was done in the parking lot of the Brazito Plaza shopping center in Las Cruces, New Mexico on March 19, 1977. This is where Jan met Mr. Bob Duffey, who was extremely benevolent in attitude considering this was his hometown! He had given her an autographed photo. The jump went as planned over five cars (See top left photo) with barely enough room to stop the bike before she would have gone onto the highway.
Left: Janet's second of two jumps she performed in Clovis, New Mexico on June 5, 1977. Right: Jumping in El Paso, Texas on August 6, 1976.
In May of 1977, she was to do another double jump at a Kawasaki dealership, this time in the gravel parking lot. As partial payment she was given a brand new bike. The first jump was a little short but she still made it without a problem. This caused her to overcompensate on the second jump. The approach was too fast. As she overshot the landing ramp altogether, landed in the gravel and the bike went out from under her. This was the first crash she had done without intending to! With minor injuries on the chin and left elbow, both requiring stitches, she was released from the hospital to check out the damage to the new bike. Since it was superficial, the dealership fixed it within a day. Her next set of jumps would be in the same town, but a different venue, the fairgrounds. In this show a car dealer had provided some used cars for the jumps. The first jump was fine, the second just a little short. This didn't end in a crash, though, the back wheel landed on the top of the last car, leaving a very distinguishable tire track! She was afraid that she might have to cover the damage financially but the dealer was so excited about it that he put the car on his showroom floor with a sign and a photograph of the jump! The next week she did another jump as a battle of the sexes. The other jumper was a motorcycle dealer. The jump went well and the dealer's first jump was a crowd pleaser in his hometown. The next stop would be her last.
June 25, San Angelo, Texas, the Concho River was her next big jump. Donny Winn had tried to jump this river not one year but two. He had crashed both times. She had the idea to cross from the opposite direction and that is how the jump was set. It was a Saturday afternoon show during the "Fiesta del Concho", with a huge crowd of people standing on both sides of the river waiting for the jump. The time had come for the performance and she was a little apprehensive, still making practice runs. The speed just didn't seem to be enough. Another few minutes went by, and as she had learned so well in the passed few years, the show must go on. She went out into the street where she started her approach with a wave of her hand meaning that this was the real thing. As she neared the up ramp, went over the curb and onto the grass, the throttle decreased just a little as she hit the ramp, this is what saved her life.
The jump ended on the opposite bank of the river. Jan hit the bank with her head and right elbow. Paramedics (emergency corps at that time) were at her side within seconds, one of her brothers was there to take her helmet off, another to pull the jump bike out of the river, the engine still running. If the bike had been going any faster, she would have hit the landing ramp full force, not landing on it but into it. She was in the ICU with a concussion, still not conscious, paralyzed on her right side for six hours before any response. She also had dislocated her right elbow and broken it in three places. On Tuesday morning she awoke to reporters at her bedside waiting for the story. Although at the time she was still thinking she would jump more, in fact, after weeks of recovery, she retired from stunt work at the age of 22.
Photo: Janet Lee, John of Cycle Jumpers and "Super Joe" Reed at Galpin Ford during one of Evel's appearances.