It’s very hard to work your way onto my list of heroes. It requires a special blend of humility, charity, charm, an urge to play hard and the work ethic to earn that right to play. Paul Newman will probably sit at the top of my list forever but it makes me happy when someone else steps forward for evaluation.
Over the past few years, Ken Block has certainly been attracting the world’s attention through his online Gymkhana videos. In these videos, Ken spends a lot of time driving cars sideways through some technically challenging and highly amusing locations. Last week, Gymkhana 5 lit up the Internet with over 5 million views in the first 24 hours it was online.
I like that Ken is up front with the Gymkhana series being high energy advertisements for his sponsors. His main racing sponsor is DC Shoes, a company he started in 1994 with Damon Way after having created three successful skateboarding and snowboarding entities: Eightball Clothing, Droors Clothing and Blunt Magazine. In interviews, he admits to not having been a good enough athlete to draw high dollar sponsorships so he started the businesses with the intentions of using them to fund his racing activities.
I have a lot of respect for this approach to getting into motorsports. Starting up a business takes a immense amount of work and very few people are as successful as Ken has been with his business. Thanks to his hard work, Ken is now a full time rally driver and has the distinction of being the second ever American (John Buffum was the first in 1988) to earn points in the World Rally Championship.
In the various interviews I’ve seen with him, he seems like a really nice guy that I would want to hang out with. He doesn’t succumb to posturing and waving his arms around with claims of being the best ever. He just seems to really enjoy destroying tires in his own special way and going really fast.
Being a nice guy, a successful businessman and accomplished race driver has made Ken into a bit of a celebrity. The mix of celebrity and business are a natural combination that leads to licensed goods. Of course, DC Shoes has a complete clothing line dedicated to Ken Block. Then you can get Dirt 3 on the game system of your choice, which features Ken Block and a pretty cool Gymkhana section of the game that lets players produce their own videos to share on Youtube.
My Ken Block collection started with the Hot Wheels diecast cars and miniature remote control car. I would love to get one of the 1:43 scale models hand crafted by Fabio Conterno because of the fantastic level of detail he puts into the models. Of course, the 1:43 model from Ixo is pretty attractive as well and I wouldn’t be ashamed to have it on display. For a bit more involved activity, the Traxxas RC line of cars are pretty impressive and should be lots of fun to do some miniature Gymkhana activity. And for the paper model collectors out there, I haven’t found any of Ken’s cars but I did find a great model of Markko Martin’s (a top WRC contender who trained Ken Block) Ford Focus RS available for download HERE with easy to follow instructions HERE.
All of this is almost enough to add Ken to my list of heroes. The only area of improvement I can see would be charity. Sure he grew a moustache for Movember (a fine movement that I’ve participated in as well) but I don’t see him performing any other charity actions. It could be that he’s just very humble and doesn’t have his name plastered all over his charity work but that doesn’t seem to fit his style. Ken could take a lesson from the book of Paul Newman and using his branding power to raise money for a charity. Until then, Ken will have to content himself with being a guy I admire.