Van Wert County daredevil, Henry “Pitbull” Rife jumps his ATV over eight tractors at Kernel Coopers Corn Maze in this September 2013 file photo. Rife will be appearing the new Discovery channel series “Heirs to the Dare.” (TB File Photo)
Van Wert County daredevil, Henry “Pitbull” Rife jumps his ATV over eight tractors at Kernel Coopers Corn Maze in this September 2013 file photo. Rife will be appearing the new Discovery channel series “Heirs to the Dare.” (TB File Photo)

VAN WERT — This could be the biggest jump Henry “Pitbull” Rife will ever make.

The local daredevil is making the jump from local hero to reality television star with his debut on the new series Heirs to the Dare which premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

“I saw the finished product two weeks ago, and I just sat there with my mouth hanging open!” Rife admitted. “I’m telling you, you’re going to be shocked. When I went to New York to do some voice over work, they pulled me in the room and had an impromptu meeting with all the guys who are in the show, and they said, ‘You know, this thing has legs. We’re pleasantly surprised at how good this is. This may be something that could be like a Duck Dynasty-caliber.’ And I couldn’t believe it.”

Heirs to the Dare is a reality show that follows the lives and careers of three daredevils: Super Joe Reed, Bubba Blackwell, and Rife. The title refers to the lack of anyone currently holding the mantle of Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel who passed away in 2007.

Rife explained, “The meaning is that since Evel Knievel retired and then died there’s really not been a premiere daredevil like him. His son, kinda. I like Robbie, he’s a good guy and he treats me really good, but he kinda fell short. He really didn’t capture America and the world like his dad did.”

Enter Rife, who along with Reed and Blackwell, are pushing to boost their names into the limelight. The hope is to get audiences involved with the daredevils.

“Our show, there’s a lot of humor in it. There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of action, but it’s nothing like you see on American Choppers where they’re ready to go duke it out every five minutes. You don’t see any of that stuff. I wouldn’t want to be a part of anything like that. It’s very good-natured and it shows daredevils in a really good light; their funny side, their exciting side, their ornery side, all that stuff,” said Rife.

With the series premiere coming on Monday, this weekend Rife will be celebrated in his hometown. Lee Kinstle GM Sales & Service is holding Henry Rife Day at the dealership on Ervin Rd. on Saturday from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. There will be posters and merchandise available. Rife will be there to sign autographs and pose for pictures. At 1 p.m., the party will move to Fricker’s until 4 p.m.

On Monday, all are invited to back to Fricker’s beginning at 8 p.m. for the premiere party, which Rife said will “run until we’re done.”

Rife is used to the attention around here though. Jumps around the county typically bring out good crowds, and Rife always provides a good show. The Van Wert native grew up idolizing Evel Knievel, and he learned the legend’s showmanship. He even made a televised jump on David Letterman’s show, not to mention elsewhere. When the Heirs to the Dare producer was looking for someone to fit the Knievel mold, Rife’s name was given mentioned.

“People kept telling her if she was looking for somebody like Evel Knievel, I was probably as close as she was going to get,” described Rife. “But she said she wanted to talk to me, and she told me they were thinking about doing a reality-based TV show, and they’re calling it Heirs to the Dare. So I guess these people got talking and they think it’s time for another one or maybe a couple.”

After a short interview and a review of videos of Rife’s jumps, a longer interview was set up via Skype online. Soon Rife gave them a taste of the personality they could expect in person.

“It was just an interview, but I noticed the more I talked that she started sitting at the edge of her seat with her fingernails in her mouth! She was all into it,” he laughed. “About a week later she got a hold of me and told me that they had decided that I was definitely one. ‘There’s going to be two or three more, but we definitely want you.’ So it progressed and in January of 2013 we started filming and it’s been a year-long deal going to different locations, filming around Van Wert, doing voice-over work.”

Camera crews followed Rife around for nearly nine months in 2013. They started with interviews with Rife’s family and crew. Then when the weather got a little better, Rife introduced them to Van Wert.

“We started filming life in Van Wert and how I get treated around Van Wert. It’s basically dead-on how it really goes. It might be blowed up just a little bit, but it’s right,” Rife pointed out. “It got a little warmer still and it was time to start jumping. We went to the Van-Del and there was like a four and a half mile long row of cars waiting to get in to watch me jump on the Discovery Channel. And they freaked out! They started acting like a bunch of kids. They said, ‘This is like Woodstock!’ They loved Van Wert. They are a bunch of big city guys and they are absolutely in love with the thought of there are still small towns in America like this.”

Rife was pleased when the producers and the owner of the production company told him they didn’t want to give a bad view of his hometown.
“They loved the charm and they said to me over and over that they loved Van Wert. It’s like a travelogue. If you’re coming to Van Wert, this is what you’re going to see and they show the library, they show Balyeats’, they show a couple of other businesses… they did a fantastic job. It looks so good, you can’t believe it!” he claimed.

According to Rife, footage for the show was cut and reassembled eight times before the final version was shown to him about two weeks ago. Rife said he was thrilled with result.

“I couldn’t believe it. They out-did themselves. It’s really good,” he stated.

Rife is hoping for a good debut in the ratings for the series when the Discovery Channel rolls the video beginning at 10 p.m. on Monday. But he does realize that the jump to the small screen may come up short.

“I think it’s going to appeal to a lot of different groups of people. I think it’s got a chance,” he said. “I’m trying to keep a realistic approach to it. This thing could go off like a bomb or like a firecracker. Who knows?”