I knew Ken Block. I knew all about this guy. I didn’t need an interview to confirm the content of the book matched the cover. I’d already judged it.
How wrong I was.
How wrong I was.
I don’t remember the precise time and date of the interview. But I do remember how much it overran.
Going beyond the cover, I’d turned the first page of Block the book and was captivated. Ken was a sensationally engaging character from every aspect, every angle. From minute one of our first conversation 15 years ago, we got on.
And we got on because we had a deep-rooted mutual love of all things rallying.
For all the hype, for all the hoopla, KB was a rally man at his heart. And I loved him for that.
Not for the first time, writing words like these hurts terribly. It still makes no sense. How can Ken Block be gone… he’s Ken Block. Like, how could Colin McRae be gone?
There’s the call I should have taken, the conversation we should have had.
The championship Ken should have won.
And we know how much he wanted that American title.
He never came closer than in the last year. Oddly, I felt conflicted. I wanted him to win, but at the same time I didn’t want fulfilled ambition to limit his desire to be back on stage in the future.
If he didn’t win, he’d definitely be back for another shot and that would mean another chance to chat, another chance to take on the next chapter of Audi’s history. Another chance to regale each other with well-worn tales of a mutual friend called Colin.
How I wish he’d won now.
Ken will always be best known for a corner of YouTube he claimed as his own – and for taking a thing for horses and claiming it as his own.
Every one that dropped simply raised the bar for the next. And the Hoonigan Racing Division did not disappoint. This was Ken’s time. My favorite? Five. Had to be. San Francisco.
The coolest start in the world as he drifted the Fremont Street exit off Highway 101 and proceeds to redefine your McQueen-Bullitt-shaped thinking about what can be done with a car and those streets.
That’s some achievement.
And just when you thought it was all over, it wasn’t. Not quite. Not when there’s a barge in the bay carrying a Fiesta with a handbrake. That final minute or so is why Styx’s Come Sail Away graces pretty much every playlist I’ve compiled in the last decade.
I was fortunate enough to witness Gymkhana from inside the car as well. Twice he came to the UK as part of some Ford or Monster promotion and twice I found myself looking at parts of London from the oddest of angles. The first was when we tore up Battersea Power Station and the second was on the wettest of wet Mondays at the Olympic Park in Stratford.
Stepping out of the tent to nose hundreds of horsepower onto the capital’s sodden streets, it was impossible not to be impressed with inch-perfect control over such astonishing power.
There was a moment of concern, however, when I pointed to the smoke billowing off the front-right.
KB was creating so much wheelspin, he was boiling the water which sat between tire and Tarmac
“David,” he said, with incredible calm, “that’s not smoke. That’s steam.”
KB was creating so much wheelspin, he was boiling the water which sat between tire and Tarmac.
Ken was a cool guy. Out of the car and back into the tent, we took our place in front of a hastily secured electric fire being run off the Hoonigan generator. Aware of a third person trying to feel their toes again, Ken smiled.
“Do you know Matt?”
I didn’t know Matt.
And it’s probably fair to assume Matt LeBlanc didn’t know me.
But it’s Ken’s time on rallies which was the most special for me. His commitment extended well beyond what any other driver was doing. I remember walking into breakfast at the Portal del Lago Hotel in Villa Carlos Paz one morning in 2011. It was before six and the crews weren’t really expected for another half an hour. There was KB, sitting at his laptop watching something intently.
I joked about a last-minute onboard recce, only for KB to let me know it was the morning edit of his team’s latest video bound for YouTube. Ken’s grasp of all things commercial was second-to-none, as you’d expect from the man who masterminded DC Shoes. His business brain laid the foundations for the fun he would have once he found his way into a rally car.
Had his talent been spotted earlier, there’s no doubting Ken could have crafted himself a career at rallying’s top table.
The 2010 and 2011 seasons were Ken’s shot at something approaching a full-on WRC assault. Armed with an M-Sport Ford, he and his long-time co-driver Alex Gelsomino landed top-10 finishes and a whole bunch of stories.
Those two seasons also delivered a great deal of respect from his WRC peers at the time – and more than the odd memorable evening with the likes of Sébastien Loeb and Kimi Räikkönen.
Ken’s passion for the purest form of our sport was reflected in the way he shaped his program for each season. It’s why two of the three rallies he did in 2015 were in New Zealand. He loved those roads. And it’s what took him to Donegal in Ireland and carried him to Kenya for the Safari in a Porsche 911.
Outside of his lovely family, two men were never far from Ken’s side. His co-driver and great friend Alex is one of them.
Derek Dauncey is the other.
Derek is Hoonigan Racing’s team manager and somebody I’ve known my entire working life. It’s because of Derek that I did that first interview with Ken. I have a lot to thank him for.
ARA’s just not going to be the same this season. It’s just not. There’ll be no KB debrief after each round, no phone calls with another idea for a way to wind Travis up.
“It’s the way we work…” he would tell me when he found me doubting.
Increasingly, the focus of our chatter had ventured outside of his own car and towards those of his daughter Lia and wife Lucy. Hoonigan Racing became a true ARA family affair last season.
The pride KB took in his family was immense.
Their sense of loss right now is as immeasurable as it is tragic.
Block will be missed by millions and cyberspace will be that bit quieter without the slaying of quite so many tires.
But I’ll miss KB, the man. The guy with so many stories, like the time a fan tried to follow him into a Mexican toilet to take his picture.
It’s been an absolute privilege to talk to you, to write about you and, most of all, to call you a friend.