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The Gymkhana Files: Episode 3—“In The Dirt” Review

by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Ken Block

Ken Block’s rollercoaster past couple of years continue in the third episode of The Gymkhana Files, which dropped on Amazon Prime on Friday. The latest episode, “In The Dirt,” isn’t too heavy on the Gymkhana 10 filming itself, though, as Block has something a little more pressing to attend to: the annual FIA World Rallycross Championship event at Circuit de Loheac in France, a favorite track of his on the schedule.

While light on the driving and capturing of the stunts that will make it to the final film, we’re still treated to a decent helping of the process work of Gymkhana 10 in the third episode. We start with a flashback to the third Gymkhana film, Block’s first as a Ford driver, where he did donuts on his rims on the French racetrack where the film was shot; that serves as the launching point for the episode, where Block and company try to make as many sparks as they can with a snow white Ford Escort on its rims.

While they’re wondering aloud how they can make more sparks after looking at the photos (because of course they are), you can’t deny it: there’s actual elation in people’s voices at this point. For once, the pressure seems to be off. They’re having fun.

But Block is due in France the next day, and for the first time we get to see why he got into rally in the first place. We get to take a quick tour through the first decade or so of his rallying career, from friend and longtime DC Shoes collaborator Rob Dyrdek initially dismissing it as a hobby for Block to indulge in after selling the company, to Block’s wife Lucy saying she was “never worried about him being hurt” before a montage of many of Block’s most spectacular crashes. After those early years in Rally America and his step into a larger FIA World Rally Championship program for Ford in 2010, we fast forward to 2016, when Ford steps up to support Block for a factory rallycross program.

(Editor’s note: as Global Rallycross’ former media director, I would be remiss not to fill in the years the episode skips over that Block spent as a GRC driver. These were, in fact, many of Block’s best racing years: he won six races and finished only a single race position outside of the championship in 2014. That year, he stood on the podium in six of the season’s final seven races, including a win in the season finale in Las Vegas. Only Joni Wiman’s late race Joker Lap to move from fourth place to second swung the championship; had he finished third, Block would have won the title on a tiebreaker.)

Spirits are high after the first day of racing at Loheac. Block outraces his teammate Andreas Bakkerud in the second qualifying race to rank third overall. But as he’s reviewing livery concepts for Gymkhana 10 with designer Death Spray Custom, who flew into France for the event, the rain comes, throwing what could have been a podium result into question.

Indeed, although Block makes it into the semifinals, things don’t go according to plan. While his reaction time itself is fine off the line, the car doesn’t put the power down well enough in the wet, and he makes contact with Toomas Heikkinen. Eventually, he falls out of contention due to a puncture and a spin into the gravel. Bakkerud manages to advance from the other semifinal, leading to Block’s daughter helpfully pointing out, “He’s doing better than you, dad.”

Throughout the episode, though, we gain an understanding of just how Block’s media savvy has enabled him to climb through the sport so quickly. Yes, many drivers started much earlier (Mattias Ekstrom admits his first races came late, at age 14, while Block began at 37). But Block has always been committed to maximizing whatever resources he has available to him, and just as importantly, trying to find positive things to say to media even after frustrating events. That’s not always something we see out of other racers; some can be downright miserable to work with.

But privately, Block can only endure so much with a car that won’t perform at the level he’s used to. We see a difficult, private conversation with team manager Derek Dauncey, the first time we see the negative Block we’ve occasionally seen during the Gymkhana 10 shoots. His mind is made up: it doesn’t make sense to keep the racing program going the way it exists in the moment.

Throughout the episode, director Brian Scotto is off on his own in Texas, scouting locations for the Hoonitruck to take on in future shoots. We get a few clips of it tearing through one particularly unique building, and Scotto finds an old car lot with an owner who’s willing to loan out some vehicles for a future shoot. But all that is interrupted at the end of the episode, when Block gives him a call and lets him know how the racing is going.

For the second episode in a row, The Gymkhana Files ends on a down note, reflecting everything that Block still wants to accomplish and hasn’t quite fulfilled. Like he says at the start of the episode, some of those ideas will take time. But unfortunately, knowing his limitations means that the dream of a rallycross title might remain unsatisfied—at least for now.

The Gymkhana Files can be seen on Amazon Prime.

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