Race car driver Ken Block speeds down a narrow band of asphalt in his souped-up Ford Fiesta, careening through the "Back to the Future" set on Universal Studios' back lot.
The speedometer flies toward 80. Block's eyes are fixed on the road as he accelerates toward an invitation-only crowd of gear heads in town for the Los Angeles Auto Show.
When he whips around the corner toward Courthouse Square in Marty McFly's hometown, Block sees a sea of undistinguishable faces. He plants his foot on the accelerator, then pulls back on a massive hand brake on his right side.
Instantly, the rear wheels skid and Block muscles the car into a tight circle. The car spins once, then twice, in a succession of doughnuts. The pungent smell of burning rubber fills the air as clouds of blue smoke billow off the tires.
After the third spin, Block wrestles the race car free of the tight turn. He steers toward the wide-eyed crowd that inches forward for a closer look.
Block zooms past and circles the set another time. He ends the routine with a sweeping drift that brings the car within four feet of the crowd before shuddering to a stop.
The growling engine quiets as the crowd applauds. Before stepping out to meet his fans, Block jerks off his helmet and replaces it with a black baseball cap.
"How are you guys doing?" Block asks, as if nothing had happened.
There's small talk, a few photos, autographs and the obligatory promotion for the Fiesta idling behind him. Ford was the sponsor of the event. For Block, this is more than just a performance; it's his job.
An athletic 45-year-old adrenaline junkie, Block has parlayed his doughnut-carving skills into a lucrative business. His YouTube videos have become Internet sensations, drawing advertisers such as Ford and energy drink company Monster.
His talents have turned him into a motor star for a new generation, unlike NASCAR drivers who appeal to a different, if not older, crowd. Millions of viewers have posted Block's short films on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. According to Mashable, a social media news website, two of Block's videos are among the four most shared advertisements in the world.
In one video, Block can be seen speeding down an empty Oakland Bay Bridge, ripping a set of tire-smoking doughnuts between two trolley cars, and seemingly breaking the laws of physics by twisting the car in mid-flight on a 90-degree turn after jumping a hill.
Within 24 hours, the video was viewed more than 5 million times.
Block's routine is called "gymkhana," and it has more in common with board sports than car races. Instead of competing for a good lap time, Block is trying to perform a set of uniquely choreographed maneuvers on an open course much in the same way that he tried to pull off tricks on a skateboard when he was younger.
Growing up in Long Beach in the 1970s, Block often tagged along with his brothers as they got involved in the emerging skateboard scene. When he was 10, his older brother bought him a skinny wooden board with fat wheels.
Almost immediately, Block began practicing at skate parks in Long Beach and Lakewood. He was hooked and began diversifying his skills. He raced amateur motocross until he was 17. He snowboarded the jumps, half pipes and rails at Mammoth Mountain.
As he got older, Block realized he didn't have the talent to become a professional. While attending Palomar College, he learned graphics design and screen printing and designed T-shirts that he was able to sell to local skate shops.
After talking his parents into a $10,000 loan, he started a small business in 1991 with friend Damon Way. The company, Eight Ball, specialized in simple, mostly monochromatic apparel and used an advertising campaign that pictured friends, including superstar skateboarders Rob Dyrdek and Damon's brother Danny Way, wearing the clothing line.
His stunts drive Web traffic
Videos of race car driver Ken Block's intricately choreographed car maneuvers have drawn millions of viewers.
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