LAS VEGAS—Flamboyant driving and Las Vegas have gone together since the days of Evel Knievel.
If the late daredevil had had the promotion power of the Internet, he would have given race driver extraordinaire Ken Block a run for his money.
Demonstrating at last fall's Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show the car-control moves made famous in his viral Internet videos, Mr. Block, 43, piloted his highly modified 2011 Ford Fiesta hatchback in demonstrations of “gym¬khana”—a blend of drifting and rally driving on a tricky course. This type of motorsport is practiced in the U.S., Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and South Africa.
The successful entrepreneur-turned-rally racer-turned Web superstar's 650-horsepower antics were part of SEMA's “Ford Out Front” program that used the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center. And it drew monster crowds.
“We had over 100,000 attendees at the show. I bet every single one of the attendees watched it,” said Peter MacGillivray, SEMA's vice president of events and communications.
Jamie Allison, Ford Motor Co.'s racing director, was also tickled. “As Ken would say, we are 'STOKED' with our relationship and his outreach to a new generation of fans and enthusiasts!” he told Tire Business via e-mail. “I found out about Ken the same way a lot of people did. I saw his gymkhana videos on YouTube, and I couldn't believe it! I passed it along to all of my friends and we were all in AWE!”
The 24 million YouTube views (as of this writing) of Mr. Block's “Gymkhana 3” has helped Ford “reach the audience—those into action sports—that traditionally has not considered Ford,” Mr. Allison said.
Pirelli Tire North Am¬erica Inc. also appreciates Mr. Block's cachet.
“It was very nice to see our brand present and represented with the top influencers in every category,” Rafael Navarro, Pirelli's director of communications and motorsports, told Tire Business. “That is a very strong statement that cannot be made with smoke and mirrors.
“The strength of the brand is derived from the products, which have a deep-rooted history in performance and quality that is second-to-none. We look to have relationships that add to the message of our brand, 'Power is nothing without control.'”
In Mr. Block's case controlled traction—not to mention plenty of burning rubber for demonstrations such as at the SEMA Show—is delivered by either 235/40R18 or 245/40R18 PZero Rossos at all four corners. For gymkhana competitions, he gives the nod to Pirelli's even grippier P Zero Trofeos.
Mr. Navarro called Mr. Block “a trouper. We are very grateful to Ken and his team for helping us activate the relationship at SEMA. He was able to be in our booth for two signing periods where he signed and numbered a special edition lithograph for fans that we produced together.
“He also made himself available to make an appearance at an event on behalf of Pirelli.”
The Rome, Ga.-based tire manufacturer has seen “a great upside” impact on its interactive marketing program, Mr. Navarro said. “Unique visits are up; we are getting new looks and that is due to the fact that we have a great team of partners like Ken who are bringing their followers to check us out.”
And where there's smoke, there's tire—and plenty of web traffic. The “Gymkhana 3, Part 2: Ultimate Playground; L'Autodrome” video was one of YouTube's 10 most popular videos in 2010, said a Ford spokesman.
Now Mr. Block—whose “day job” is chief brand officer for Vista, Calif.-based DC Shoes Inc., which he co-founded in 1993 with Damon Way—is about to dive into test sessions for his first full season of World Rally Championship (WRC) racing with the 2011 Fiesta Monster WRC car.
The franchise, as the video series has become known, will maintain momentum in 2011, said Brian Scotto, Monster World Rally Team's marketing director.
“We're going to be meeting in early February to plan the next video. All I can tell you is, it will be even better.”