This year is off to a brutal start. A baggage handler at an airport was reportedly ingested by an Embraer ERJ-175LR turbofan, Modest Mouse drummer Jeremiah Green passed, and football fans watched as Buffalo Bills defender Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest right on the field. Here in the car world, rally driver and stunt-driving star Ken Block died after an accident with a snowmobile. It’s a sobering start to 2023, and car enthusiasts far and wide are sharing what watching cars emblazoned with that 43 meant for them.
Yesterday, most of your Autopian writers took the day off to enjoy the start of the New Year. Somewhere along the way, our newsman Thomas discovered the depressing news about Ken Block and fired off a heartbreaking report on the situation. At first, I, like other enthusiasts, couldn’t believe what I read. I even checked the calendar to make sure I didn’t teleport to April Fools’ Day. But this is real, and it’s still a shock.
Block is survived by his wife, Lucy, and his three children. As they mourn and eventually begin the process of healing, the car world is reaching out with their own stories of how the King of Send changed their lives. Log on to social media sites and you’ll undoubtedly find endless stories.
For fellow car nut Stef Schrader, it was Block’s send-it mentality that resonated with her most, and takes my heart and today’s Comment Of The Day:
The world is a bit less fun now because of Ken’s passing.
Gymkhana came out when I was a film major in college, and man, it was such a huge influence. I didn’t stick with film work, but I absolutely stuck to sending it—whenever I could, however I could. I don’t get up and finish work to pay bills—I do it so I can maybe afford to jump a beater somewhere into the air for laughs in my spare time. It felt surreal to take over Hoon of the Day at Jalopnik for a while given that all I ever really wanted to do was hoon.
On top of that, man, Block was one of the few drivers you just never heard a bad word about. Just a genuinely nice guy, and it’s been a joy to watch him support his kid’s shenanigans lately.
RIP to the king of the hoons.
An honorable mention goes to the reply to Stef from A. Barth. They discovered Ken Block in the same way that I did, through one unforgettable Top Gear segment:
“Gymkhana came out when I was a film major in college”
The first time I saw him was on Top Gear when he scared the stuffing out of Captain Slow while hooning around an airfield in the desert.
That video includes a visit from Ricky Carmichael and one of the best slo-mo multi-vehicle shots EVER.
I still remember this video even nearly 13 years later. We’ve all seen stunt driving in movies before and maybe even some live performances, but this was on another level. Ken Block’s driving was balls-to-the-wall unhinged and completely unlike anything so many people have seen before. Block seemingly gave every Gymkhana a 150 percent full send, spinning and leaping his cars about with the kind of grace of a figure skater.
What really hit home for me was what James May described as the “Eyeball Spin Dryer.” As a teenager, that was the coolest thing ever to me, and I spent countless hours trying to replicate it in video games. As an adult, one thing I like about snow is being able to take a four-wheel-drive vehicle and replicate the spin dryer in the snow.
And when it comes to off-roading, his style has inspired me to do what I might have been too scared to do. When I jump a crapbox Toyota Camry through the air, I feel like I’m experiencing just a slice of Block’s insanity. But, like with Stef, this goes behind cars. When I feel scared about doing something in life, or find myself on the fence about a decision, sometimes I think “send it” and just do it. And you know what? My life is better for trusting myself and pushing myself forward. Perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t.
And Block wasn’t just known for developing an entire system to live your life, either. Through the stories coming out online, it seems that he was an all-around decent person out of the driver seat, too. I know it seems small in the grand scheme of things, but for some, it means a lot to know that someone who inspires you is also an ally, too.
When I think of Ken Block I’ll choose to remember this photo. He was one of the first racers I ever saw support the LGBTQIA+ community. As a young ace scared of coming out, seeing one of my heroes open up as an ally meant the world to me. His light will never disappear. pic.twitter.com/SU5pQmhD3E
— Michael Klein (@michaelklein10a) January 3, 2023
I wish the best for Block’s family, and I hope his legacy continues to inspire and bring smiles to faces for years to come. Rest in peace, Ken Block.
I’ve been actively trying to avoid having to deal with Ken’s death as the wounds are still too raw from other deaths of folks closer to me.
I was active in rallying around ’99-’01. Before Ken showed up. I stopped because not only was the car a money pit, it simply wasn’t fun. I couldn’t afford to run anything resembling a full season. My practice course was an abandoned logging trail where nearly every wide ripped a bumper off or trashed fenders. There was no sponsorship and virtually no spectators.
Then along comes Ken with those jerks from VTSC in ’05. (Look, I will always bleed RalliArt red and orange in Gr.N.) Most folks really didn’t think much of it. In ’06, he did the X Games rally thing, but so did some other folks. Which mostly people considered silly and not real rallying.
You know who he lost to there? Travis Pastrana and Christian Edstrom, a ‘nobody’ in rally, and Colin fucking McRae and Nicky Grist. Who was a big deal. A very big deal. Except Ken’s performance was laughable. Travis won – by 0’0″52 over Colin. Ken was 0’19″13 behind Colin.
But it got people aware and watching. It was a start.
And the context of this matters a lot more than you realize. 2004 was when SCCA ProRally called it quits for good after 32 seasons. After years of struggles and issues with things like event insurance, middling attendance at best, and declining sponsorships. It was the final death of rally in the US by all accounts. Rally America bought the rights but – very rightly – nobody believed they would be able to make it work for long. (They folded in 2018.)
Rally was viewed as highly technical, ‘biggest wallet wins,’ and no fun for new fans. Freezing your ass off walking an hour out into the woods at Sno*Drift to see one car catch a few inches of air every 10 minutes. Then walking all the way back again. (Remember here that American special stage is very wildly different from European special stage, especially in course construction and location.) Unless you were already a hardcore fan, even $10 GA tickets wasn’t appealing. Not even to see a Jeep Commanche drifting. (Yes, someone ran a legit Commanche in Gr.5.)
And then comes Gymkhana.
Forget Ken’s mediocre performance in competition – his record speaks for itself. I don’t know why he struggled so often. Sometimes it was just bad luck, sometimes just wildly overdriving it.
But as a showman and promoter? Ken wasn’t just without equal – he was without any peers, at all. You could let him loose in a parking lot in a base 1984 Honda Civic and he’d have every eye in the mall on him in a minute. He made rally appealing. Cars were fun in his hands, and put a huge grin on every face in the room.
And he was always, always a rallyists’ rallyist. Press on regardless, when in doubt flat out, don’t pretend things don’t suck sometimes, never ignore a driver in need, and welcome everyone with open arms. Didn’t matter who you were, he was ready with a smile and a handshake, autograph pen at the ready, and eager to promote and educate. (Unless he’d just wrecked. Because he didn’t put on a fake happy face and rattle off a bunch of sponsors and Jesus.) You had a question, he’d answer the best he could.
Ken personified so many of the core reasons that when it comes to women who want to get into motorsports, I advise them to go to NHRA or go rallying. People like Ken are why when I tell them ‘go check out rallying,’ I know they’ll not only be safe but welcomed, encouraged, and supported. Despite never having met him, I knew that even if nobody else would give them the time of day? No matter how bad the stage was going, no matter where Ken was in the standings, I could implicitly trust that he would greet them with the same kindness and compassion as everyone else, and welcome them into the world of yumps and 3 left over crest. He was the kind of guy who even if he’d just crashed out, wouldn’t hesitate to lend a tool or even a spare part so you could keep going.
There just aren’t words to express what you feel when you lose someone like that. Someone who isn’t merely irreplaceable, but utterly fundamental and foundational in the way that Ken was.
I thought rallying was interesting from a technical standpoint, but something I never thought I’d get into as a kid in the 90’s. It seemed like it was always in Europe, huge budgets, just unobtainium. But when I was in highschool from 00-04, a bunch of my skater friends started wearing DC shoes, I searched the company, found Ken Block, found out HE WAS AN AMERICAN RALLY DRIVER, and started to follow it along. I knew he wasn’t successful, but all the clips I saw, he was always going flat out. It really started to draw me in and made me a fan of his for sure.
I still haven’t made it to an event, but I have a few neons and K-cars I could turn into rallycross cars with a little bit of work, and my wife is dying to do that.
I was rather shocked when I read the news, because Ken Block seemed like the type of guy that was going to cheat death and outlive every single one of us. But, my poor 12 year old son was devastated. He’d always had an interest in cars, and I used to show him Gymkhana videos as a small child. Eventually, him getting older he followed the Hoonigan’s channel on his own, and became a fan of Ken and all of them independently. I’ve never seen him shed tears over a celebrity before, but I think Ken was more a hero and inspiration than a celebrity to him than anything else.
I didn’t know what to do, other than talk to him for a while, and then take him for a rip down some gravel roads last night
I lost my dad to a snowmobile accident when he was 56 years old just outside of Park City UT.
My prayers go out to Ken’s family and friends.
I know he had a grin on his face when he went. There’s no way he didn’t. That’s tough and simply not fair that he’s gone.
“I know it seems small in the grand scheme of things, but for some, it means a lot to know that someone who inspires you is also an ally, too.”
I dunno – to me it’s important when a public figure I admire turns out to be a good human being. That just enhances the overall admiration I have for that person. If they turn out to be a jerk, then that tarnishes the whole thing, which is really unpleasant. The downside is that it means we didn’t just lose a guy who did amazing things with cars, we lost someone who was a positive force in the world.
Always send it. Always.
I’m not ordinarily the type to get emotional when a celebrity passes, but I’ve been really upset since I first read about Ken Block’s death this morning. And I just realized that the last time I felt this way was when Sabine Schmitz died. And for the same reason. Both such great people. Both gone too soon. If there’s a race track in Heaven, tonight it’s Hoonicorn vs. Sabine’s M3. And what a show it must be.
Admittedly he was a less inspirational person, but I would like to think Paul Walker and his R34 skyline is drifting around with them.
Thank you, Mercedes and Stef. I wonder how many other people had their introduction to Ken via that clip – probably more than a few.
I did not know he was an ally; that is excellent.
I tend to send on two wheels, but agree that the mentality can be extended to all parts of life. I took a big professional risk earlier this year and, well, right now I’m metaphorically picking bits of my car out of the Armco – and figuring out what to do differently next time.
Anyway, I hope 2023 improves for all of us.
The overwhelming warmth and love from the entire auto community has been really endearing to see after the bleakness of the news iteself.
I’ve never subscribed to any of the Afterlife schemes, but I’d like to think that the Valkyries are all searching on Valhalla’s interweb cause they know they gotta up their steed game after Ken came in hot
I came across his San Francisco Gymkhana around the time it had come out – at that point ~10 years in the auto industry had kinda burned me out on cars. That video more or less brought me back.
Was supposed to see him race in a rally last fall, but he had wrecked in the days prior.
RIP to an all-timer who lived his life to the fullest.
Sending love and condolences to Ken’s family, thanks for sharing This guy, yeah…. no words can express… so sorry for you and the world’s loss.