News & Media

Six Pack: Wallenda's high-wire act sure to entertain at Charlotte

October 09, 2012, Joe Menzer,

Nik Wallenda, who recently walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls and this Saturday night will perform a high-wire act prior to the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, answers this week's six questions.

1. What's more dangerous, doing what you do or driving a race car at high speeds around a place like CMS?

Wallenda: I'd love to try going 180 (miles per hour) around here, but each one has their challenges. There is a lot of danger involved in driving a race car. I have the utmost respect for these drivers. They're athletes of their own, and they have to perform at a peak level during a race. It's the same for me when I go from training to having to perform a high-wire act like the one everybody will see (Saturday night) if they come out to the track.

"My family has been doing this for 200 years and seven generations. My great-great grandfather said it best. He said, 'Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.'"


2. Did wire-walking across Niagara Falls change your life in any way?

Wallenda: It certainly has brought on more attention. To me, it was just a dream. I had dreamed of doing it from the first time I visited. Looking across the Falls at (age) six, I said, 'How cool would it be to become the first person to walk directly over Niagara Falls?' Little did I know that I would have to change two laws in two countries that were over 100 years old to accomplish it.

3. How far across was it and what were the laws that needed to be changed?

Wallenda: It was 1,550 feet (across). There were two laws -- one in the United States and one in Canada -- were both over 100 years old. They were 'No Stunting' laws -- and of course they consider wire-walking a stunt. But it was put into effect because there were a lot of guys going over the Falls in barrels and getting killed.

So I had to change those two laws, saying that it allows me to break that law, basically. Specifically me. But we were successful in doing that and I just completed that walk. And coming up next summer, I will be walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope -- which no one else has done, either. ... It's over a half-mile across and it's about 1,800 feet up. That's something I've been working on a long time -- about six years, in fact. It's near the South Rim. We have permits where we'll be doing it.

4. How much training is involved in what you do?

Wallenda: I love walking a wire, whether I'm out in front of an audience or not. So I do it at least five days a week for at least five hours a day. I have a passion for what I do and it's obviously in my blood. But my family has been doing this for 200 years and seven generations. My great-great grandfather said it best. He said, 'Life is on the wire and everything else is just waiting.'

I have three children -- ages 14, 11 and 9 -- and they all have walked the wire, too. So it's eight generations now, and it's something we do as a family.

5. Have you ever slipped off the wire and what did you or would you do in such an instance?

Wallenda: I've walked the wire since I was 2 years old. And we trained then down low, just 18 inches off the ground. But even if I got off the wire at 2 years old to go get a drink of water, I was taught to grab the wire. So it became second nature. You automatically grab that wire. So if I'm getting off to get a drink of water or whatever, we actually practice falling and grabbing onto that wire.

I've done hundreds of walks, though, and never had to grab onto the wire. I'd say Niagara Falls was the most treacherous. There was the wind, and then it was rigged uniquely, too. No one has ever rigged a wire that distance without stabilizers -- so it was moving a lot under my feet. If you watch the video of it, you can actually see the wire bouncing.

6. Can you describe what you'll be doing this Saturday night, and how much more exciting would it be if you could actually do it during the race instead of before it?

Wallenda: I will descend from above the frontstretch grandstands across a span of more than 750 feet to a crane set up behind Victory Circle in the infield. It's a span of roughly two-and-a-half football fields and I will be as much as 10 stories high while balancing on the wire (which is a 5/8th-inch cord).

As far as doing it with the cars running around the track underneath as I walk across above, I understand you're joking, but, oh, I'd love to. That was my dream, actually, when they asked me to come here. That's what I wanted to do. But with the rules of NASCAR and such, they're not going to allow that.