Interview: Ken Block – Part 2
- 11th April 2008, 11:46am
I've been a car enthusiast for as long as I can remember. My favorite type of car racing to watch on TV has always been rally. I have been a fan of it since I was really young. I'm not sure why I've always liked it ... I assume it's the sliding and jumping of the cars that isn't really found anywhere else in car racing.
I even bought a VW GTI in the eighties and slid it around in the snow when I had a chance (at that time, I lived in the mountains as a snowboard bum). Of course, I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but it sure was fun.
In the summer of 2004, DC Shoes (I am one of the founders of DC) began to sponsor Travis Pastrana, who, as well as being a motocross freestyle and Supercross star, is an avid rally car racer and sponsored by Subaru. I worked closely on the DC sponsorship for Travis and I made sure to include DC in his rally racing efforts.
I knew this was my big chance. What better excuse to do something that's always been a dream of mine---go rally race AND do it with one of our biggest athletes! I mean, it is my job to go hang out and entertain our athletes, right?
So, I made a call to the company that handles Travis' rallying efforts for Subaru of America, Vermont SportsCar. I told them that I wanted to race with Travis in 2005, and to let me know what I needed to do to get there. They put me through two different classes with two former US champions, Tim O'Neal---he has a private school in New Hampshire---and John Buffum, the winning-est rally driver in US history. It was quite an education ... and I only wrecked one car in the process!
Part of my final education in order to race with Travis is to get some real rally race experience. But the promoter of the US rally series, Rally America, has to be very cautious with new drivers such as me for insurance reasons.
The Subaru STI Group N car if driven by a novice could do some serious damage to himself and/or spectators if things went wrong. So, once I was entered into the first National event, one of eight, they had to take some precautions. I was given some stern warnings to drive safe and I had to drive a car that was 'detuned.' VTCar had to turn my turbo boost to practically zero---a loss of almost 100 HP.
Luckily, the first event I competed in was called Sno*Drift, and the course was 126 miles of roads covered in snow. So the lack of horsepower didn't matter that much because driving on snow requires more finesse than speed (especially without studs…studded tires are not allowed in US rallying).
So, I finished seventh overall and fifth in the Group N class. Not bad for my first snow rally (and, my first national event). I think I shocked a few people by ending up so high on the leader board---especially because I had a handicapped car. And, I started in forty-second place on the road, meaning that I started back in the pack behind a bunch of really slow cars. I caught a lot of cars in the stages. It's really sketchy passing people on tight, snowy roads.
I am very appreciative for how far I have come in such a short amount of time. Hell, I even beat Colin McRae on a stage! I must give a lot of credit for these accomplishments to Subaru, Lance Smith and his team at Vermont SportsCar. They have believed in Travis and I and put us thru a great training program to get us to where we are today.
I must say though, I am one of the luckiest people on the planet. I have had (and continue to have) a very successful business career and now I am getting to have a second career as a pro rally driver. Honestly, I couldn’t have dreamed of these things as a kid…it’s an amazing reality.
Your background is in skateboarding, but you are also passionate about snowboarding, motocross and rallying. What is it about these high-adrenaline sports that you love most?
I just enjoy having fun and trying to excel at whatever I am passionate about.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
That’s a tough question…how about I answer with a few personal mottos?
1. Work really hard (although, I have a problem with procrastination).
2. Be the best you can be at whatever you do in life.
3. Respect is earned, not asked for.
You've only been rallying for a couple of years, and in your first year you were Rally America's Rookie of the Year, and in 2006 you finished second in the Rally America Championship. How do you explain your rapid success in the sport?
Hard work and a lot of determination! I really love to drive rally cars and I am making the most out of every moment of this rally career that I can. Every time that I am even near my rally car, I am 110% committed to working hard to be the best that I can and learn everything there is to know about this amazing sport.
Both yourself and your friend Travis Pastrana, another motocross competitor, now drive for Subaru Rally Team USA. How did a pair of rookies get a gig like that?!
That’s a great question…I think we showed some natural talent right from the beginning, plus we were able to get a lot of exposure for Subaru and our other team’s sponsors. So, the pairing of Travis and I has been very successful right since the start and we continue to be a great asset for all the sponsors involved with the team.
Plus, Travis is……..well, he’s Travis Pastrana! Honestly, Travis is one of the most unique and talented people I have ever met (and, I work with a lot of incredible people). It’s truly been an honour becoming his friend and team mate and getting an up close view of just how his crazy mind works.
There’s a great documentary about Travis coming out soon. Check out the trailer.
Also, here’s a funny clip of Travis from the DC Mtn.Lab 1.5 video (he and I had a bet as to who would do a backflip first on a snowboard).
Honestly, I feel very blessed that I am in the position that I am in. I work with an incredible team and a great co-driver. I have a tremendous set of supportive sponsors (especially Monster Energy, Subaru, BF Goodrich, Boost Mobile, and DC) and I have Travis Pastrana as a team mate! Plus, I have had the occasional opportunity to do some really fun stuff with my rally car outside of the racing.
Recently, I made a “BEST OF” section of photos on my personal website. There are 27 photos in there, and I am really proud of every one of them. My rally career has only been 3 short years so far, yet I have a selection of photos that looks like a long seasoned pro. A nd, those highlights are quite different than most top pro rally drivers because of some of the unique things that I have had the opportunity to do.
Check that photo section out at: www.kenblockracing.com (click on the PHOTOS section in the top menu).
In 2007 you competed in two rounds of the World Rally Championship, Rally Mexico and Rally New Zealand. What are your plans for 2008, both in America and on the world scene?
For 2008 I have 16 events in my schedule. Nine races in the Rally America National Championship, the X Games, two races in the Canadian National Championship, one tarmac rally (it’s in the US, but not in the main US championship), plus the last three races of the PWRC Championship (NZ, Japan, and the UK).
As of right now, I am leading the Rally America National Championship because of my recent win at the 100 Acre Wood Rally (3rd win in a row at that event) (watch the video highlights), and because Travis hit a deer while leading the 1st round of the year.
If you haven’t see Travis’ in-car footage from that wreck, it’s worth checking out.
What have been the highlights of your short rally career to date, and what other competitors do you admire?
I just answered a similar question for Rally World Magazine. Here was that answer to the highlights:
1. Forcing Colin McRae into a crash (roll) in a head-to-head Super Special (X Games 2007)! Watch it here.
2. Getting on the cover of Snowboarder Magazine in my rally car (side by side jump with a snowboarder in New Zealand on the snow).
3. Achieving two top 5-stage times in the Group N class in WRC New Zealand (only my second WRC event and only my 3rd 2-pass recce).
4. Winning my first rally before my teammate Travis (Pastrana) won his first rally! Take a look.
5. Jumping my rally car like a dirt bike (171 foot long jump for Stunt Junkies). If you haven't seen the footage, here it is.
As far as drivers go, I have been - and will always be - a big fan of Colin McRae. His max-attack driving style and never-give-up attitude is one of the biggest influences in how and why I am a rally driver. And, it was a huge honour for me to race with him, and an even bigger honour to become good friends with him.
You competed in a couple of New Zealand Rally Championship races in 2007 - is there any chance we'll see you competing in Australia any time soon?
I wish I had an opportunity to race down there, but nothing has come up as of yet. It looks like there’s a great championship going with some top competition, so I hope to make it there for some races someday.
In closing, can you tell is about any new stunts that you have planned?
I have three new things planned for the next couple of years, but they are all top secret! The first one happens next month…it’s a simple idea that I came up with and we are shooting it for the cover of Racer X Magazine (a motocross magazine).
I truly enjoy having fun doing these special events with my rally car, but my biggest focus is the racing. It’s great that I have the opportunities to do these things, but I truly want to be the best rally driver that I can possibly be. That’s goal #1.
- Full access
- Exclusive news
- Store & Tour discounts