Ken Block is the sort of driver that other rally drivers love to hate. After shooting to YouTube stardom with his Gymkhana – extreme driving video’s - then stepping into a rally car in which he now consistently finishes in the top five. Block’s previous life is even more astounding!
The founder of uber-succesful brand DC Shoes, Block is a multidimensional driven bloke who is seemingly unstoppable. There is more to Ken Block than just grinning behind the wheel of an extreme rally car while driving sideways, sideways then more sideways. Ken Blocks story is a tale of the kid from the block working his ass off and making it good. He’d started his first company while he was still in community college and has just never stopped.
Born November 21, 1967, in Long Beach, California Ken Block was a skater and hoon even at an early age. Driving has always been in his blood, as soon as he was tall enough to see over the dash he would hoon around the neighborhood. His need for speed wasn’t a distraction from his business ambitions though. At 19 he started printing T-Shirts while still at community college and by 22 had started Eightball clothing company with his friend Damon Way. Eightball clothing eventually grew into DC Shoes, a clothing company for Snow-boarders, skaters and extreme sports athletes. The company was sold in 2004 to Quicksilver.
The early years for DC Shoes contained a lot of growing pains and changes in direction, so much so that it might have stifled any other company, DC Shoes thrived and grew during these early years. Starting off in the family garage Eighball clothing quickly grew and moved into its own office space in 1991. Way had a skill for getting the foot in the door at the local surf and skate shops and this was put to good use developing their early retail network. Eightball like all other small business started by pounding the pavements ad making deals with shops, building up a network, and customers. As a part of this early build up Eightball actually ran its own magazine from 1993 to 1995, Blunt. As a marketing tool Blunt had helped to establish the brand.
Risk taking and careful risk judgement have been a part of Blocks personality from a young age. The love of extreme sports is just one manifestation of this. The ability to judge risk successfully was a skill well adapted to extreme sports and business. Early on Block knew that endorsements from pro skaters and snow boarders would be hugely important to his business, but the risk is who to endorse. He knew his target market, the skater kids, his crew. He knew that the kids loved to wear the cloths their hero’s wore, in this case the professional skaters and snow boards. Eightball started building up endorsements early with his business partners brother, skate boarder Danny Way. Sponsorship was another skill that Block and his business partners mastered early.
DC Shoes, the early years.
1990. Ken Block, Damon Way start Eightball clothing brand
1991. Eightball Clothing shifts to offices, officially named Eightball Clothing
1992. Droors jeans brand is launched
1993: The company is incorporated as Circle Distribution.
1994: DC Shoes and Dub outerwear brands are introduced.
1997: Droors and Dub brands are divested.
1997: Danny Way engineers the first Super Ramp and sets a new world record for highest air
1998: Circle Distribution is renamed DC Shoes, Inc.
2003. Aborted sales to Billabong
2004. Sold to quicksilver
2005. Starts rally career
Eighball / DC Shoes quickly built a stable of snowboarders and skaters that would tour under the company banner. Block was himself well-known for his extreme snowboarding and crazy moves in the skate bowl. During 1997 DC Shoes continued the team sponsorship idea beginning the Snowboarding team, Rally Cross team and the Surf team. DC Shoes teams now also include a BMX team and an Auto Team, with Block, Mira and Pastrana as drivers. DC Shoes current team includes Danny Way, Josh Kalis, Nick Dompierre, Wes Kremer, Evan Smith, Robbie Maddison, Travis Pastrana, Dave Mira amongst the many DC Shoes team members. This year, DC sent 13 athletes to X Games 17, to compete in Skate, Moto, BMX, and Rally.
Once Block and his business partners had sold DC Shoes in 2004 the bridges built through his years at DC Shoes became very handy. Bridges that would be used to traverse the trickiest move of them all, a career change. Blocks desire to drive competitively became reality really very fast, by 2005 he was sitting in a Subaru WRX specially built for him by the Vermont SportsCar team.
By the end of his first year of driving he had finished fourth overall in the Rally America National Championship, also taking the Rookey of the Year award. The end of his second and third years saw him well established as a regular on the rally scene. After a few years in the Subaru Block had the opportunity to join the Monster WRC rally team, from 2007 he competed in both the WRC -World Rally Championship- and the Rally America championship.
This partnership with Monster also lead to the filming of the first Gymkhana video. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Block though. With a major accident in Portugal and New Zealand he has certainly given his family a few scary moments during the WRC. Thankfully neither of the accidents were enough to slow Block down, he’s tenacious and is continuing to work his way up the leader board, scoring first places in both championships.
Gymkhana events are a growing form of motor sport that involves completing against the clock to finish the course. The course generally is marked out with witches hats and requires the driver to perform tricks like hand brake turns, slide parking, drifting and power slides. Blocks performances in the Gymkhana videos holds true to the spirit of Gymkhana, it’s just a much more extreme version. Blocks Gymkahana video still rates as the most watched for any single athlete or sports star, even the preview videos have over 27 million views. In essence this is what all Gymkhana events were designed to do, improve advanced driver skills and provide a stunning spectacle for those watching.
Here at highpants we rate the Gymkhana 3 videos as the best extreme driving demonstrations ever posted on YouTube. The production quality of the videos doesn’t hurt either, with slick camera angles and high quality video these are professionally produced videos. This coupled with the extreme driving behind the wheel of an extreme rally sports car leads to just one thing, Gymkhana number 4.
Even with all of the publicity Ken Block manages to maintain a low profile, he is the genuine quiet achiever and generally nice guy. Put him behind the wheel of a rally car and it’s a different story all together, he will take that car to within an inch of its life. So here on the edge of our seats we patiently wait for Gymkhana 4, August 16, 2011 penciled in and the count down begun.
As the anticipation builds we wonder what Monster and Ken Block have in store for us. We know the Ford Fiesta he is driving has the extreme performance required, 650bhp and under 2 seconds to 100km/h is extreme in every language. We also hear rumors of locations in Wales and some very expensive production equipment but we will have to wait and see.
Check out Gymkhana 3 and the Preview of Block’s new car soon to be seen in Gymkhana 4. READ MORE
UPDATE. Gymkhana 4, released 16.08.2011 CHECK out the VIDEO
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