Landing into Salt Lake City earlier this week, there was that moment of satisfaction. The job was done. I’d written a column about the legacy Ken Block would leave. What #43 would mean in years to come.
It’s in the trash.
I thought I knew Ken. To some extent I did. I’d appreciated KB the creator, the businessman and, of course, the rally driver for 15 years.
Wednesday afternoon in the Woodward ski resort at his beloved Park City, I started to understand that I’d barely scratched the surface.
Anybody who’s read DirtFish since tragedy struck on the year’s first Monday will have grasped how much I appreciated Ken Block for being a great rally man.
I did him a disservice.
He was so much more. He was one of planet earth’s genuinely great humans.
At 1.43pm precisely on Wednesday, 600 invited folk from right around the world gathered to talk, to ski, to snowboard, but most of all to listen to stories from those who’d been fortunate enough to share their lives with KB.
There were stories from before DC Shoes, times when Ken would offer his buddy a $40 bet to drink the dregs from the liquor bottle they’d used to extinguish their cigarettes. The bottle was emptied, to the soundtrack of Ken’s laugh.
That laugh was a running theme on Wednesday.
As was a sense of fun that pervaded even the most serious of days at work. There was always time to laugh.
So, what is the legacy?
In a practical form, there’s The 43 Institute.
But to understand the thinking behind The 43 Institute, you had to listen and to talk to those closest to Ken.
Brian Scotto was somebody who’d stood alongside Ken for pretty much his whole time in motorsport. Scotto was part of the original creative crew before he and KB went on to form Hoonigan Racing Division together.
Creating Wednesday was one of the biggest challenges Scotto or any of the crew had ever faced.
“What do we do?” he said. “I was just asking myself: what do we do? How do we do this?
“Then I had an idea, I thought to myself: ‘How would I convince Ken to come to this?’ The first point would have been: ‘Dude, you don’t have to wear a suit!’
He took a bunch of people who were misfits and he made us into f****** rockstarsBrian Scotto
“Ken would have loved this, bringing so many people together. That was what he did. He brought so many of us together from so many different areas, from DC [Shoes], skate, snowboarding, moto, motorsport.
“But he also made people question themselves. Ken lived his life to the fullest and he made me ask myself the question: am I doing the same?
“He just wanted people to be a better version of themselves. So many of us felt like misfits until he showed us what we could do. Ken was the guy who connected all of us and he loved that.
“He took a bunch of people who were misfits and he made us into f****** rockstars.”
And, like it or not, Ken was the biggest of all those rockstars.
Nick Adcock worked with Ken as CEO of DC Shoes, well before rallying and gymkhana. The pair had become the best of friends.
Nick said: “I didn’t know Ken for motorsport. The Ken I knew was the guy I drank Sangria with when our families shared Christmas.
“When this thing happened on that Monday, I found myself on social media and looking at what people were saying. I was on Instagram and I saw tributes from four of the world’s biggest car makers, from Subaru, Audi, Porsche and Ford. I couldn’t believe it, the impact Ken had…”
Scotto smiles at the thought of celebrity Ken.
“He never wanted to be a celebrity,” he said, “but he soon realized that being a celebrity would get him into some very cool cars.”
Much more than sitting in flash cars, Ken used his status to help others. His generosity ran right through his life, right from letting a friend stay in his house for two years while he got back on his feet all the way up to just giving people a chance. An opportunity.
Scotto: “Ken just made people better. He was the kindest person I knew. He left us too early…”
Like the vast majority of those who stepped up to speak, the moment caught Brian. There was a breath, a deep breath, a long look upwards.
“He was the sort of person I want to be.”
The warmth, the emotion that washed over the room at those moments was almost surreal. To see, to feel so much love for one person was truly humbling. Tears momentarily juxtaposed the laughter, applause and appreciation which greeted story after story.
So maybe that’s the legacy? The ability to love, to laugh and bring those around you an opportunity to become their own best version.
Ken just made people better. He was the kindest person I knew. He left us too earlyBrian Scotto
“The 43 Institute exists to carry on Ken Block’s greatest legacy: creating paths of opportunity and success for people, limited by nothing but their own dedication and tenacity.”
For me, the legacy’s even bigger, even wider than that ability to convince people to run with the ball they’d just picked up.
KB was a visionary. He saw, for example, the social wave building in rallying and was the first to paddle out.
Derek Dauncey, Hoonigan team manager and all round thoroughly decent bloke, recalled the first time Ken shared his plans.
“Ken was talking about moving away from Subaru,” said Derek. “It was 2009. We were on our way back from the New York Rally. He started telling me all about this idea to set up our own team, run the cars ourselves and get to the world championship the next season.
“I said it all sounded sensible, but just one thing: how were we going to pay for it?
“Facebook was the answer. What? Wasn’t Facebook just that thing for finding old girlfriends? He started talking to me in what seemed like a different language, talking about demographics this and that. It was like he was speaking Mandarin.
“We were signing with Ford, so I went off to meet with [M-Sport managing director] Malcolm Wilson to ask if we could borrow a car. Malcolm asked me who Ken was and I told him the full story, using all the new words Ken had taught me. Malcolm listen, then said: ‘So you want me to loan you a million-dollar rally car for a shoe salesman?’
“He loaned us the car and we did the world championship.”
For a generation of rally fans, KB brought rallying out of the woods and into the mainstream. Gymkhana was – and is – an insanely entertaining way of watching a bloke drive a car. He captured the hearts, the minds and the imagination of millions. He was a man in his mid-50s who broke the internet on a regular basis.
Nobody backed a car into cyberspace like Ken.
While the Hoonigans will keep gymkhana alive, rallying owes it to Ken to deliver for the generation of fans he brought to the door.
That has to be part of the legacy. But it’s still not all of it. It can’t be.
In all the time I knew Ken, he was never not smilingSelema ‘Sal’ Masekela
Another running theme through Wednesday was Ken the husband and the father.
The love for Lucy and the children was as intense as it was real. And everlasting.
American television presenter Selema ‘Sal’ Masekela talked of the impact Lucy had on Ken.
“You could feel the energy Ken had, the magic,” said Sal. “Ken was a cool guy when I met him, but I’ve got to tell you, when he met that lady… that’s when Ken became the s***!
“In all the time I knew Ken, he was never not smiling. He lived 10,000 lives and the more success he had, the more he held the door open for others. He saw me when I didn’t even see myself.”
The legacy of Ken is already showing itself in their oldest daughter Lia. Ever since she was 14 years old and drag racing an 1800bhp Ford Mustang, the talent has been there for all to see. It’s hard to imagine siblings Kira and Mika are going to be anything other than awesome. It’s in the genes.
But maybe Ken’s the one who should have a say in his own legacy. Typically, he captured it perfectly in a one-liner, when he said:
“Try to inspire people, don’t take life too seriously, lead a fun life. And don’t be an asshole.”
KB 43. Forever. That’s the legacy.