DRIVER OF SUBARU RALLY TEAM USA CAR #43, KEN BLOCK BRINGS A SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE TO EVERYTHING HE DOES.
Ken Block has participated in Rally America Championship, One Lap of America, Gumball 3000 Rally, and Time Attack. Put them together with the other sports that Block has done, and you might picture a crazed speed freak out of touch with reality. But who you meet is someone very different.
At a rally, Ken Block seems quiet and unassuming. If it weren’t for his driving suit, you might not pick him out as one of the leading drivers in the points fight for the Rally America National Championship or the man who jumped his Subaru rally car 171 feet for the Stunt Junkies television show. He’s also a successful businessman – the chief brand officer for DC Shoes, the performance skateboarding footwear manufacturing company that he co-founded in 1993.
We talked with Ken Block shortly after he tied Travis Pastrana for the Rally America Championship by winning Rally Colorado in September, leaving the Lake Superior Rally at the end of October to decide the year’s champion.
I’ve always been a fan of motorsports, and the motorsport that attracted me the most was rally. In part, I could identify the easiest with it because I grew up riding dirt bikes. So I liked the idea of sliding and jumping on the dirt. Formula 1 and drag racing and NASCAR® – I’ve always appreciated them, but I haven’t related to them as much because they didn’t look as fun. Driving on the same track over and over and not jumping or sliding just doesn’t have the same appeal to me.
Yes! It’s something I dreamed of doing since I was a little kid, and once I got into it, it honestly was everything that I dreamed about. As I get further into it, developing my competition skills and getting better as a driver, I just love it more and more. I’ve done plenty of other motorsports – from karting to tarmac racing, even to the Gumball Rally – and I can honestly say nothing compares to what I feel when I’m in the middle of a stage, in the middle of a highly competitive rally. There’s just nothing else like it.
I guess it’s really about the flow of the roads, the car control, and the commitment that it takes to go as fast as you can down a dirt road – the feeling of when that commitment works, when you’re going 10 tenths, and sliding 50 feet before a high-speed corner, that you have to calculate everything perfectly – when all of that works, it’s just a feeling like nothing else.
Apparently my favorite venue is the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Missouri, because I’ve won it two years in a row!
Besides that, I did a rally earlier this year in New Zealand called the Rally of Whangarei. That rally has some of the most fun roads I’ve ever driven.
Most of the time when I’m at the rally, some people think I’m just either really quiet or standoffish. Mostly, it’s that I take rally and the racing very seriously. The term for me is “focused.” I block everything out of my head and try to focus everything that I can mentally on the racing and doing the best job that I can. So, any time I’m standing around the service area, around the car, I’m looking for anything I can from an advantage to a possible problem with the car or thinking through strategy – anything like that.
I’ve only been doing this a couple of years now, so I think eventually I’ll get better and better at opening up and separating some of the focus from the racing to be able to open up and talk to people more. Not that I can’t do it. It’s just that I’m trying to focus most of my time and energy on the business at hand.
As a kid, when I was watching rally, I don’t specifically remember drivers. What I remember is the car – and the car was the Audi Group B car in the ’80s. That’s what sticks out the most in my mind, mainly because that’s what grabbed my attention. I think there was some WRC highlight-type things on TV and there was also the Pikes Peak Hill Climb that I think that I saw several times in the mid-’80s. That’s what sticks out in my mind. I was blown away by the car control and how the cars looked and what they did. That was around the time that I was racing amateur motocross, so it really all sort of clicked for me.
And from there, I started paying a little more attention to rally. And then Colin McRae was my actual first hero in rally who really caught my attention in the mid-’90s.