Ken Block’s Gymkhana series has been one of the most viewed video series in the history of YouTube. Not only has this series landed a number of deals with the DC Shoes founder, but it has led to the Gymkhana series to be showcased as its own show on Amazon Prime.
There are to this date 10 parts to the Gymkhana series showcasing some of the most awesome stunts ever performed in a car. This includes drifting, jumping, obstacles and much more. However, there are quite a few things that happen behind the scenes of the now big-budget production that Ken Block’s Gymkhana series has become.
We are going to be going over 25 little-known details behind Ken Block’s Gymkhana series. These little-known details will showcase a number of different elements of the series and the production that goes into making each video. Where the videos are generally around 10 minutes long, this, in fact, is a production that spans multiple days, locations and a vast script that Ken Block himself follows during each of the stunts.
The Gymkhana series has amassed a huge following through social media and YouTube, with videos that are reaching hundreds of millions of views, and some hitting nearly 1 billion views on YouTube alone. Not only does this create some of the best automotive content online, but it gives a ton of room for finding out what goes into making each of the videos. So let’s begin by jumping into 25 little-known details behind the making of Ken Block’s Gymkhana series.
25 The Hoonicorn
Originally the Hoonicorn was actually not supposed to be a 1965 Ford Mustang. In fact it was originally going to be a Ford Maverick, as per Ken Block’s request. However, due to the rarity of the Maverick during the beginning stages of the build, the crew decided on the Mustang instead.
Ken actually wanted the car due to his family having owned one when he was a kid. This was something for him to pay homage to his family and his childhood. This ultimately is showcased in some of the later builds of the series as well.
24 Gymkhana 1 Took 2 Days of Filming
It is a little-known fact that Gymkhana 1 actually took 2 days of filming spread out over a full month. This was something that even Ken didn’t really expect since this was his time to have fun. Originally the Gymkhana series was for Ken to do some cool car tricks and promote DC Shoes.
However, since the success of Gymkhana 1, the series turned into a full machine that has continued to grow bigger and better to the 10th version of the series that has been recently released. This has created a tradition for going bigger and better than the ones before, and to think it just started with 2 days of filming stunts on an airfield...
23 The Stunt That Was Not Scripted
In Gymkhana 3 there was a moment where during filming there was a massive downpour. This was one major factor that ended up hindering the progress of filming during Gymkhana 3. However, this didn’t stop Ken from having a bit of fun.
During the rain is when the filming of the donut sequence happened. This did end up making it into the video, however, this was something that wasn’t scripted at all. This was just Ken Block going out and making the best out of a situation, and it ended up being golden.
22 One Take On Gymkhana 6
Originally there was supposed to be a one take shot during the filming of Gymkhana 6, however that wasn’t able to happen. There was actually rain that had fallen before they were heading to shoot the scene. This was one of the only times that the crew could have done a one-take scene since everything was built by them.
Unfortunately, by the time they were headed to do the filming, the rain had just fallen making them unable to get the one take shot. It wouldn’t be until Gymkhana 10 where there would be another similar scene, which they didn’t end up getting after all.
21 Travis Pastrana
It is well known that Travis Pastrana and Ken Block are good friends, which is why Ken had to have Travis in the filming of Gymkhana 5. During the video, Travis worked on doing a slow wheelie for Ken to drift around in his car.
However, one of the little-known details is that Travis actually still had a broken ankle. He had broken his ankle over a year before quite badly during the X-Games and was still working on recovery during the filming of Gymkhana 5. He actually had trouble with the brake during the wheelie, which is why it moved quite a bit faster than anticipated.
20 The Detroit Garage
It is ironic that filming was allowed in Detroit since all of the issues that the crew had in filming there in the earlier stages of the series. However, there was a portion that was filmed in the heart of Detroit. One scene, in particular, was shot in an abandoned garage situated in the heart of Detroit.
The ironic part about this garage is that the same one was used for filming Childish Gambino’s “This is America” music video. Not long after, the Hoonicorn shook the entire building with its 1400 hp of fury.
19 Tire Malfunction
During the filming of Gymkhana 3, there actually were quite a few issues regarding the tire compound that was on Ken’s car. The manufacturer actually ended up sending the wrong tire compound, causing a bad blowout and damage to the car.
This ended up being one of the last straws that Ken Block had with this tire manufacturer, and he ended up partnering with Toyo not long after this incident. Fortunately, the tires ended up being delivered again, and filming continued along the way.
18 Gymkhana 9 in Buffalo
The filming of Gymkhana 9 was actually not supposed to be in Buffalo, but actually in Australia. There ended up being issues with the police force in Sydney (the crew actually wasn’t allowed to film any of the stunts in the country at all).
This made the film scouts reconsider and ultimately led them to Buffalo, where they were given free rein over the city. This made for great entertainment and of course, great stunts by Ken Block. Not only was this one of the best Gymkhana videos to date, but it added a new dynamic of stunts that hadn’t been seen either.
17 Detroit and Gymkhana 3
Detroit is a location that was the first in line for the filming of Gymkhana 3, however they completely did not agree to the terms that Ken Block and the production crew were looking for. In fact, the city actually stated that if they were to film in Detroit, anything could be shut down by the city if they deemed necessary.
This meant that even if they were already set up to do a shot, the city could shut them down. Due to a money decision, the crew decided that it was not going to work in Detroit and ended up scouting the actual location that they used for the filming.
16 The Homage to Skateboarding
In many of the Gymkhana videos, there always is a subtle reference to something that Ken is passionate about. In this case, skateboarding and board sports. Since Ken Block is one of the co-founders of DC Shoes it is natural that one of the videos finds a way to pay homage to skateboarding.
Gymkhana 5 was one that did it subtly, however, it still was strong. When the crew shut down the bay bridge, they actually invited one of the DC Shoes riders to come to a session on the bridge while he was in town. The man in question was Josh Calis.
15 Another Skateboarding Reference
Thrasher Magazine is one of the most popular skateboarding magazines on the planet. This was one thing that Ken Block knew most. During the filming of Gymkhana 7, the crew actually invited the founder of Thrasher, Jake Phelps, to be a part of the video.
His cameo actually came during the ending sequence where the Hoonicorn shredded through the Hollywood hills, and Jake Phelps was waving the chequered flag at the finish line. Jake actually didn’t have any interest in cars according to Ken Block, but he wanted to be a part of the filming.
14 The Barge
This was one of the best stunts that Ken Block has ever done for the filming of Gymkhana. However, it actually wasn’t supposed to happen at all. According to the film crew, the original ending shot was supposed to be a session where Ken was drifting the car with the bridge in the background. However, at the last minute, a cruise ship had to come back to port.
This ruined that shot, until it made it better. One of the crew members actually had talked to the barge owner and rented the barge for them to do whatever they wanted for the final shot of the video. This gave not only an awesome ending, but one of the best stunts to date.
13 The Hardest Location Permit
This is something that every director faces; every time the crew films at a location, they are faced with finding ways to get permits to film Ken doing the stunts. However, none compare to how difficult it was to get a permit to film at the Hollywood sign.
To film there, you not only had to get permission by the federal government but by the sign owners as well. Plus there were a ton of different rules, that if broken could lead to some of the worst legal action they could imagine since it was federal property, of course. The crew actually got the final go-ahead, on the 3rd day of filming Gymkhana 7, and had to immediately stop their current shots and get up there to film.
12 Throttle Lock
While the barge was headed to the water for taking that last shot of Ken drifting, there actually was a slight mishap. According to Ken, there was one thing he was afraid of, throttle lock and going into the ocean. Low and behold, the dreaded throttle lock happened.
This is something that happens extremely rarely with the level of cars that are built for rallycross and doing Gymkhana. However, his worst fear came to life.
11 The Same Location
One of the things that are difficult about the filming of the Gymkhana series is actually closing down the locations. A little-known detail about Gymkhana 5 is that most of the stunts were actually shot at the same intersection, just from different angles.
This included the infamous jump, Travis Pastrana’s wheelie and more. It proved to be difficult to get different locations during the middle of the day for filming due to the busy nature of the city. However, the flawless transitions and the camera work were definitely good enough to put us in awe.
10 The Ladder Trick
This was by far one of the best stunts to be featured in any of the Gymkhana videos. This involved a lot of risks and ended up being a really good shot at the end of the day. This was the first time the crew had a big-time production ordeal, including stunt people to do one of the videos.
However, due to the risk of this, the stunt team didn’t want it to happen. If they did, it would have been with wires and safety equipment, which ultimately Ken and the crew did regardless, and the stunt turned out just as expected. There were no wires, no safety, just good timing, and great driving.
9 Hidden Homage to an Indie Cult Movie
Like many of the films, Gymkhana 7 involved many different hidden elements that were in the background. One, in particular, was on a billboard alongside the highway in Gymkhana 7. This scene was simply where Ken flew on the highway with the Hoonicorn.
However, due to copyrights, certain brands cannot be shown in the film without permission. Which is why the billboard was covered up with a poster for The Room, an indie movie that was cult-like in fashion. Although the crew agreed that the movie was terrible, they like adding these hidden elements in the filming of the series.
8 Last Minute Roll
During the filming of Gymkhana 8, there was a break in filming where Ken and a few of the crew could actually have time to mess around in the GRC car. So in Ken Block fashion, he took the car back to the desert and began having a bit of fun when all of a sudden, he hit a rut in the dirt.
There was only 1 shot left until the film was complete, and they were given only a specific time frame to film. Not only did the crew completely get the car rebuilt and ready for the shot, but they did it just in time to finish the film, and get it rolling on the next project. The car actually went from completely destroyed to a working, functioning car just in time to do more donuts.
7 Final Scene in Gymkhana 8
This was one of the more iconic scenes in any of the Gymkhana films. Especially being in Dubai, there were many different elements that went into the making of this. However, the hotel that they drifted around the fountain, only gave them a certain time frame to do the filming.
Coming off the roll of the car, the crew had only 1 hour to finish the filming, do the stunt and clear out before the hotel ended up kicking them out. This is the same hotel that actually has really high-end cars (think gold Ferraris) in front of it, so naturally, there were a ton of rules that went into getting this shot for the film.
6 Prototype Ford Focus RS Mishap
There was a scene in the filming of Gymkhana 8 that actually featured the Ford Raptor on two wheels and Ken drifting around it on the highway. Originally this was supposed to be the Ford Raptor and the Focus RS, which he would do figure 8’s around instead of donuts.
During practice, the driver of the Focus RS ended up hitting a curb and crashing the car, completely breaking the suspension and a few other components. This is why the car didn’t make it. Another little-known fact is that this car never was returned to Ken (his personal car), and it was actually a prototype Focus RS, the first production model.
5 Hoonicorn in Gymkhana 8
Since Gymkhana 8 was a huge budget production held in Dubai, there was actually supposed to be a cameo by the Hoonicorn during the final scene. It was supposed to be filmed doing donuts on one of the helipads on one of the highest buildings in the world.
However, due to the building's regulations not aligning with Ken Block’s vision of what he wanted the donuts to end up looking like, this didn’t happen. The building wanted to chain up the car and let it do donuts that way. However, Ken wanted to get closer to the edge and do donuts that way, which involved a lot more risk, and ultimately it was shut down.
4 The Deciding Factor for the Hollywood Sign
This is something that is a little-known fact about the filming of the Gymkhana 7 video; there was a small deciding factor behind getting the location permit to film. One of the city officials wanted to have a meet and greet with Travis Pastrana in order to get full permission to film.
For the crew, it actually was one of the best things that they could do, since Ken didn’t necessarily have to go out of his way to take care of this. Travis actually ended up doing the meet and greet, without knowing who the people were and why he was doing it.
3 The Outro Song
For Gymkhana 6, the crew ended up using a song by Slayer in order to do the outro for the video. However, this wasn’t always the full plan to use Slayer for that song. It was a last minute decision. Normally they would have to collaborate with the record label, but Slayer has the rights to all of their music.
This meant that one of the production crew members actually had to reach out to each of the band members and get their permission. This along with how they wanted their credits rolled at the end of the film, made it an interesting way to use the song.
2 F-450 Donuts
As with the filming of any portion of the Gymkhana films, there always ends up being something that goes wrong with the cars. In this case, during the filming of Gymkhana 10, in L.A., there was an issue where the Ford Escort Cosworth ended up blowing its engine during a stunt.
However, to make light of it, Ken Block decided to anchor his Hoonicorn to his personal F-450 and do burnouts and donuts. This was after one of the hardest days of filming that the crew had to date, and this was one of the only things that they could do while they were waiting for the car to get completely fixed and ready to go.
1 The Hoonicorn's Broken Wheel
In Detroit, while filming Gymkhana 10, the Hoonicorn ended up hitting a curb extremely hard during the filming of one of the sequences. This ended up setting the crew back quite a bit as it didn’t just destroy the wheel, it messed up the suspension as well. Plus the crew ended up having to create a barrier for it to not happen again.
While this happened, they ended up passing a deadline for another location that they were supposed to film at. This one was on the highway, where a stunt was going to happen. Due to time constraints and an incorrect ramp being built, that location had to be cut from the filming.
Sources: Hoonigan, Top Gear, Motor Trend, Monster Energy, Speedhunters