By on October 30, 2013


On this one you’ll probably have to click the photo so you can appreciate this anonymous commenter’s response in all its smoking glory…

There’s something unnervingly enjoyable about watching Mr. Block’s rise from salesman for made-in-China shoes to quick-bake sort-of-racing superstar. He rarely puts a foot wrong from a PR perspective; the bulk of his effort is devoted to entertaining YouTubers and building his amorphous brand, not winning races. Unlike Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, or even Patrick Dempsey, Ken Block is in the motorsports biz to build his fame, not to escape it. To what purpose? That’s the best part. Fame is its own reward, apparently.

In many ways, Block is the perfect role model for the generation where everybody gets a trophy, although he is actually from Generation X. His emphasis is on participation and promotion, not winning. While he has gamely competed, after a fashion, in everything from RallyAmerica to the WRC, he is happiest when he controls the scene and the focus. His “Gymkhana” videos are a sort of everyman’s version of the BMX/skate videos that became so popular during the Nineties. But instead of some hugely talented skater or rider doing something impossibly dangerous and difficult (for an example, the peerless On The Down Low is recommended) it’s just good ol’ Ken doing fun but entirely comprehensible stuff in expensive, custom-built cars. You could ride BMX for twenty years and not pull a twenty-foot drop like the Gonz (believe me, I know) but if you had Ken’s money and time you could do what he does, no sweat. And that’s part of the appeal of it.

This handbrake cover doesn’t look like a trophy by accident. It’s a trophy he’s given himself, for his victories. They might be victories of self-promotion and pay-driving and participation, but hey, at least he’s not at home playing video games, right?

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23 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Burning Down The Block Edition...”

  • avatar

    Similarly, every time I get a promotion at work, I go have my Century re-landaued. Next time I’ll be sure and get gold too.

  • avatar

    Mr. Horsepower is enough personal branding for me. ;)

    (Hint: look under the front bumper.)

  • avatar

    ehhhh, I’ve talked with the guy, he’s surprisingly humble in person and doesn’t want to talk about his own work so much as the work of others.

    As far as I can tell, he means it when he says that he makes the videos and runs all of the promotion so that checks keep coming in to fund his rally efforts.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      That would be like me working all day for the sake of my music “career”.

    • 0 avatar

      “efforts” being the operative word in that phrase. a lot of people try to tell me that Block is a “cool dude,” but these are the guys wearing Monster-branded flat billed caps and jeans with fancy embroidery on them.

      • 0 avatar

        Hear hear! Fitting that trend doesn’t give someone the luxury of understanding “cool.”

        There’s a reason people like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen are still cool so long after their prime (or even their lives), just as much as the simple elegance of Audrey Hepburn. These were loud, obnoxious, over-branded rock-stars, or sensationally infamous twerkers.

    • 0 avatar

      If he really is as humble as you say, that’s fine and I’d respect that. But considering how a lot of those who ape his style don’t exude such personalities. Then again, there aren’t many people who honestly do these days, whether they go for this look, like the “thug life,” or are clean cut “Christian folk,” there’s a lot of disingenuous people who don’t quite grasp what humility or respect is. Seeing people yelling at other people about “not showing respect” goes more than one way. If I were block, I’d advocate less crotch-grabbing paint-ballers acting like a ‘tween.

  • avatar

    I still have Standard’s Domination on VHS, for whatever that’s worth.

    That video caused me to hurt myself pretty badly a few times.

    • 0 avatar

      Good grief, VHS? It’s available on DVD in high definition. It’s worth the money, now that you’ve learned your lesson. BTW, the kiddie show host would warn us before showing the Three Stooges, “These guys are professionals. Don’t try this at home.”

  • avatar

    If I had the need for gold in my life, it’d be for more than a half-micron thick layer of it…

  • avatar

    Someone on the rally subreddit compared Block to McRae. The response was generally negative and someone pointed out that Block either crashed or got ~6th while McRae either crashed or got 1st.

    Spot on analysis of Block, appreciated the article.

  • avatar

    Having read this, I have the same feeling I get when I have been channel surfing, land on something TMZ and learn something new about the Kardashians.

    Can we go back to bashing do-gooder grey ladies from the grey lady?

  • avatar

    What are you so bitter about Jack?

    Ken is a nice guy, very personable if you meet him. His videos are fun to watch. I don’t really see the problem. Liking the color gold is only acceptable if you’ve won 1st place in WRC?

    u guys srsly

    • 0 avatar

      Oooh, Ask him about the Stig. Jack likes to go on about Top Gear too. And some days WRC isn’t racing because it’s not. But we love him, so … Kenny from the Block can gold plate a rock.

    • 0 avatar

      Lol yeah I thought it was just me, glad to know its not.

      No gold played handbrakes in play here playa, but have you heard about the guitars and watches?

      Pure baller.


  • avatar
    hands of lunchmeat

    I don’t see him as in it to build his fame, but at this point, to build another brand. One with an incredibly stupid name.

    Everyone involved in his rally efforts in wrc knows how outgunned they are, Mr Block included. The team is incredibly small, and tended to by a company that builds and maintains vehicles for several other teams as well. Thinking this is anything more than a way to market a lifestyle to sell more shitty shirts under a new brand and the jokes on you jack.

  • avatar

    Even though I am, in general, against the “Everybody wins!” mentality that my generation grew up with, I am going to play a bit of the Devil’s advocate.

    Winners have been celebrated for centuries, and losers are always forgotten, up until this day and age. Now the end result isn’t as important to a lot of people, so much as the journey is.

    Try as he might, Ken Block will probably never win a major rally championship. He is no Colin McRae, at least from what I’ve seen. That said, he is arguably the best-known rally racer in the world, at least among those who don’t follow the sport fanatically, and he has almost single handedly raised rally racing’s profile in America.

    All without ever winning a championship (though he had long dominated the 100 Acre Wood rally, winning I think 4 back-to-back golds).

    Ken Block is a brand in the same way the Kardashians are; he is famous for being famous. Try showing a Gymkhana video to someone who doesn’t like cars; it’d be like my girlfriend asking me to watch the Kardashians, except that shit drags on for 21 minutes while Ken Block’s videos never go longer than 9.

    Yet who among us wouldn’t trade places with either Block or Kardashian? Besides their impressive wealth (Ken Block is 5x wealthier than Kardashian; wrap your mind around THAT) they are doing things we wish we were doing.

    Fame always has its detractors, I just try not to pay much attention to it. This post came off as a bit envious that a rally racer who rarely wins can command so much attention and loyalty from fans. Who doesn’t like being loved, even with when aren’t winning?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Actually, I’d be the guy’s biggest fan if he’d gotten his start on the back of something besides overseas sweatshops.*

      * insert disclaimer here: I have not personally visited DC Shoes facilities to verify that they are, in fact, not workers’ paradises where the kids get to play ping-pong between shifts

  • avatar

    Full Disclaimer: Non DC shoe wearer, non Monster drinker, non Fiesta owner (though I did buy my first GoPro). Ken is probably the best Rally talent America has had in many, many years. Do I wish he wasn’t so over the top? Yes. Do I wish he would spend a little more time on his craft, than making Gymkana videos? Yes. But you gotta pay the bills – running an M-Sport WRC-esk works car in the US without any national exposure is probably… not easy.

    My wish for Ken Block would be for him to fall off the face of the earth and re-appear 5 years later from some hidden icy mountain road / rally temple in Finland and be a real force in WRC… But to me, WRC is broken and maybe he decided that the ROI on killing yourself in WRC for scraps is not worth it.

  • avatar

    At the end of the day, I don’t care about DC Shoes. I wear New Balance.

    I think Ken’s a great driver, and from what I understand he’s no longer with DC Shoes in any managerial capacity.

    If you’re trying to compare him to Bam Margera, please. Watch any of the old Landspeed/CKY videos from before him and his crew hooked up with MTV, and there was very little if any skating. At least Ken’s a great driver and the Gymkana videos are used to showcase his driving.

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