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We were all Ken Block fans

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Regardless of whether you know it, there’s a good chance you’re a fan of Ken Block. The diversity of the man’s accomplishments and the legacy he leaves behind are so broad that even if you only know him as the guy who slides cars in these videos, I’m willing to bet he’s had a bigger influence on you than you think. .

For older Block fans, he was the kid who lived in an avocado grove in Escondido, California. His parents moved him there from Long Beach, unwittingly plunging him into the heart of the early 1980s skateboarding maelstrom. He was surrounded by a cadre of future pros in the sport that didn’t yet exist. The friends he made there would change everything.

Ken Block had a bigger influence on you than you think.

If you were in the skate scene in the 90s, the era of early superstars like Tony Hawk, John Cardiel and Eric Koston, you’re a fan of clothing entrepreneur Ken Block. After a brief attempt at becoming a professional snowboarder, Block returned to Southern California and devoted himself to his love of design. He went back to school and started printing T-shirts for friends.

Travis Barker DC shoes launch party

One of those friends was Damon Way, brother of skateboarding star Danny Way. Block and Way founded Droors Clothing, each pooling a $10,000 investment. (Block borrowed it from his parents.) It’s hard to imagine they had any idea how big this investment would indirectly pay off. Why indirectly? Because it wasn’t the clothes that made the brand.

The brand’s clean kicks have become de rigueur in the skate scene.

If you were a fan of DC Shoes in the early 2000s, then you are a fan of Ken Block, the shoe mogul. The brand’s clean kicks have become de rigueur in the skate scene, with a focus on quality and durability that sets them apart. Block was running the company as president, with Damon Way as executive vice president, and it wasn’t long before the bigger brands came along. In 2004, they sold DC Shoes to Quicksilver for nearly $90 million, including $56 million in cash. Performance bonuses over the next few years would nearly double that amount. That’s where the motorsport side of the story comes in.

FIA World Rally Championship Spain - Shakedown

If you were a fan of US amateur point-to-point rallies in 2005, you’re a fan of driver Ken Block. Block turned his success at DC Shoes into his passion for cars, rallying and Subarus. “Just for fun,” he acquired a 2005 Vermont SportsCar rally-ready Subaru WRX STI and used it to place fourth in the inaugural Rally America national championship, earning Rookie of the Year honors.

The following year, Block formed Subaru Rally Team USA with Travis Pastrana. The friends traded podium places throughout the season, with Pastrana winning the 2006 Rally America Championship and Block coming second. Stage rallies were still an incredible niche in the US, but thanks in large part to these two, this style of driving was on the cusp of going mainstream.

Block turned his success at DC Shoes into his passion for cars

If you were a motorsports fan from the X Games, you are a fan of Ken Block, the action sports athlete. The 2006 ESPN X Games XII featured rally driving for the first time, with Pastrana and Block taking gold and bronze respectively. (The late, great Colin McRae took silver, rolling his own Subaru in the process.)

If you were a Subarus fan back then, you’re a fan of Ken Block, the enthusiast. Although his star was already rising, he still showed up at local gatherings to hang out and sign posters. Block became an avid member of what was then the largest online forum for Subaru-minded misfits, the North American Subaru Impreza Owners Club, or NASIOC, where he would post links to the first videos of himself sliding around in his car. .

If you were a fan of top gear in 2009, you’re a fan of Ken Block, the showman. Really though, who wasn’t a fan of top gear At that time? The careers of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are still riding the seismic waves of popularity in those years, and Block’s appearance on top gear series 13 launched this new phase of his own.

Block had already released his first gymkhana video the previous year, humbly dubbed a “practice” session in his Subaru WRX STI built by Crawford Performance at El Toro Airfield in Irvine, California, filmed by some school friends. Though famous in enthusiast circles at the time, it wasn’t until Block took Captain Slow for a quick spin that his ticket to stardom was pierced.

If you’re a fan of gymkhana videos, then you’re clearly a fan of Ken Block. Before him, scavenger hunts were obscure (at least in America) driving events inspired by equestrian starts, something like a low-speed parking lot autocross with turns. Today, the word has become virtually synonymous with Block and his cars in DC livery – Subarus for the first two iterations before signing a deal with Ford that would go global.

With Ford, Block followed his lifelong dream of entering the World Rally Championship. Block campaigned on a limited program over four seasons in a WRC-spec Ford Fiesta. Only entering a few rounds a year meant he never stood a chance against competitors who had been racing full-time their entire lives. However, his tail driving style has earned him many fans. Meanwhile, The Gymkhana Archives it just kept getting bigger and bigger. That first video, actually a prologue, now reaches a healthy 15 million views – although that number is a bit misleading.

If you’re a fan of aggressively edited action sports clips posted on YouTube, you’re also a fan of Ken Block. That first “practice” gymkhana video that defined the model? It was initially hosted by Block himself, amassing around 30 million streams on his own website. Block was paying so much for hosting fees that he had to ask sponsors to help with the cost. To save costs, he finally uploaded it to YouTube. From there, the franchise went stratospheric, proving to athletes and sponsors that Google’s still-newly acquired streaming platform was The place to upload your antics.

FIA World Rallycross Championship - Barcelona

As Block’s views increased and The Gymkhana Archives‘ the profile swelled, the budgets got bigger and bigger. The Block franchise has become an icon in the enthusiast world as the Fast and furious movies, but unlike the Hollywood blockbuster, Block never lost sight of what made them great: the cars and the driving.

Even a switch to electrification did nothing to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. Block’s Hoonitron, his first video with new partner Audi, raked in 7 million views in just a few months.

The Block franchise has become an icon in the enthusiast world as the Fast and furious films

Meanwhile, Block was becoming a social media superstar, with more than 8 million followers on Instagram, all of whom were fans who wanted to keep up with him with whatever vehicular mayhem he was up to. While most people try to look like he’s having fun on social media, even when he isn’t, it’s hard to believe that Block wasn’t actually having fun.

Lately, many of his posts have been in tribute to his daughter Lia, giving all of us a huge reason to be a Ken Block fan, father and family man. Lia and the rest of the Block family have my deepest condolences.

Personally, I will always remember Block as a hardcore rally nerd, a humble guy who made it big and lived the dream. I’ve only met him once, in 2013, at CES of all places. He was there doing the Ford public relations thing and clearly lost his temper for the dog and pony show well before he arrived for our scheduled interview. Not wanting to make his time more miserable than it should have been, I asked him about rallying, his cars and the things he loved, rather than peppering him with inane questions about technology. It was a great conversation — even if I didn’t give my producers anything worth cutting in the CES highlight reel.

“That creative side is probably what I will remember the most”

And the man himself, what did he think his legacy would be? In a 2019 interview with the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, he said that his racing antics were a great source of joy in his life, but “bringing the creativity of skateboarding and snowboarding into the automotive world was probably the most fun for me.” me. , and that creative side is probably what I will remember the most.”

The gifts Block left with the world still feel fresh and fun to watch, but he’s not done giving yet. Your videos and success will inspire creators, producers and athletes to do better for decades to come. From a 2019 interview with The Economic Times, Block still called his gymkhana videos an “experiment,” as if they hadn’t yet borne fruit. They have, and as more and more people try to fill the huge void that Ken Block leaves behind, they will continue to do so for a long time to come.