The motorsports world is mourning the loss of noted Rally, Rallycross, and Gymkhana driver Ken Block, who died Jan. 2, in a snowmobile accident near his home in Woodland, Utah. The county Sheriff reported that Block’s snowmobile overturned on a steep slope. Block was declared dead at the scene.
Tributes poured in from around the racing world. Formula One’s seven-time champion Sir Lewis Hamilton said, “I am devastated to hear of Ken Block’s passing. Years ago we had an amazing time heli-skiing and snowboarding in Canada. We held so much respect for one another. He will truly be missed.”
Block’s former rally teammate Travis Pastrana said, “Ken was a friend, a rival, a mentor, a boss, a business partner, and a fellow family man who was more proud of showing me pictures of his kids go-karting than he was of himself doing a world’s first in one of the many ‘coolest cars known to man’ that he regularly drove the wheels off. Ken lived life to the fullest. Cut too short like so many of the greats before him. Rest in peace, buddy, you will never be forgotten.”
A remarkable career
Block lived a remarkable life. In 1994 while he was in his mid-20s, Block co-founded DC Shoes with two partners. The heavy-duty sporting shoes became popular among skateboarders and snowboarders, and the company was sold to Quiksilver for $87 million in 2004.
After DC, Block turned to motorsports and immediately established a reputation as a standout driver. He began competing in Rally America’s 2005 season in a Subaru WRX STi, finishing fourth overall in the season and claiming Rookie of the Year honors. The following year, he formed Subaru Rally Team USA together with X Games freestyle motocross legend Travis Pastrana, Vermont SportsCar, and Subaru of America.
The combination was magical. Though Block never won a Rally America championship, he was frequently second in the standings, keeping pressure on his teammate and four-time champion Pastrana. Their rivalry helped keep both drivers up front.
“We were never far off from Travis, and when I attacked midway through the rally, Travis turned up his speed even more and kept us at bay,” Block explained. “We had a good time fighting it out and the cars were perfect.”
Block also competed in Rallycross in the X Games, American Rallycross, and European Rallycross, frequently finishing on the podium. Starting in 2010, he also raced in FIA World Rally competition with Ford and the Monster World Rally Team, where he became the first American driver to campaign for the World Rally championship. Block competed in World Rally through the 2014 season. In 2014 he also competed in a single FIA ERX Supercar Championship race, which he won.
The Monster World Rally Team later became Hoonigan Racing Division, a part of Hoonigan Industries. Block formed Hoonigan in 2010 to “make cars fun.” The company sells motorsports apparel, accessories, and performance parts.
On top of all that, Block competed in the One Lap of America, Gumball 3000 and the Baja 100 in a Trophy Truck. He held the record for the world’s fastest Snowcat, built from a Ford Raptor pickup truck. His likeness appears in several popular racing video games.
Block changed the way we perceive motorsports
Yet for all of his competition and business success, Block was best-known for his series of viral Gymkhana videos, in which he would drive a variety of vehicles performing precision drifting and stunts in Subaru and Ford vehicles. The videos garnered hundreds of millions of views and made Block an Internet sensation. The videos led to an appearance on Top Gear and a memorable 171-foot Subaru jump on Stunt Junkies.
“I wasn’t too nervous about it, because if I get too nervous, it would suck,” Block quipped after his jump.
At the time of his death, Block was working on new projects with Audi together with his daughter, Lia. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their three children.
Ultimately, Block did far more than win rallies and make videos. He fundamentally changed motorsports culturearound the world and brought together the ethos of skateboarding and snowboarding with motorsports. Block didn’t need to win championships, because his fans could see that he was world-class in his skills and that he was having the time of his sweet life doing it.
Block once said, “In life, from the simplest thing to the biggest thing, I want to be proud of what it is and stake my claim: That’s mine and that’s how I do it.”