Ken Block: more than a driver

The moment I walked through my house door on Jan. 2, 2023, the unexpected news hit me like a cannonball.

It’s with our deepest regrets that we can confirm that Ken Block passed away in a snowmobile accident today,” I read off my phone. “Ken was a visionary, a pioneer, and an icon. And most importantly, a father and a husband.” All of a sudden, I felt confused. The man who would build and thrash one-off cars in exotic locations across the globe was dead. 

The co-founder of DC Shoes and Hoonigan and owner of Hoonigan Racing Division, the man I most wanted to meet, the man I watched hundreds of times over at various racing events, in the same discipline as my own family, was dead.

While most of the world knew Block for his crazy and downright stupid stunts, like drifting a highly modified Ford Focus in front of a train and almost sliding off of the famed Pikes Peak Hillclimb course in his 1965 Ford Mustang (nicknamed the Hoonicorn), I knew him differently. 

I am lucky enough to have been able to call the Block family a friend of ours, with both his and my family having competed in the same racing championships for almost 20 years. My father push-started Block’s eldest daughter’s car after an alternator failure. In the few years that his daughter and his wife had been competing, my father was often near them. There were lots of laughs shared, and between my father and Block’s wife, a lot of parent conversations were had about the crazy kids they raise. 

Ken himself, while being quite an outward-faced person, was a father first before anything else once the cameras were put away. He would always be with his wife and kids between stages at events, especially when they were younger. He understood the importance of the media aspect of his life, which is how most of us got to know what he did; he also knew that his family was important, if not more so. 

My favorite memory of Ken was at the Oregon Trail Rally in 2012. That was the first time I can remember meeting him. It was a cold Sunday in May, in the heart of Dufur, Oregon. It was nearing the start of the final day of this specific event, with all of the cars lining Main Street. Ken lined up at the head of the pack, being first on the road that day. At just 7 years old, I gathered the confidence, with help from my mother, to go up to him for the first time. I shook his hand, and he signed a poster for me. It read:

To Henery,

Rock On!

(Courtesy of Henry Tabor)

I was more taken away by the fact I had met him to even notice my name was spelled wrong. We took a quick picture, and away I went. I was over the moon. The man with the fast, black, purple, orange, and blue car shook my hand, and I got a picture with him. 

It was at the point that when I saw Ken, he was just another racer. When I saw his wife or daughter, they were just other competitors on the road, with the same goal as anyone else; beat them. I did not consider them celebrities, even though they were globally recognized. 

To me, Ken was someone who you would say hi to at the grocery store. Somebody that I would share a dinner table with on a night out. He was the most extroverted introvert, if you got a chance to meet him. 

Ken Block’s soul will be dearly missed by all corners of the universe. Every minute without him impacts me in a pounding way. Despite the grievance, Ken will forever impact the world with his incredible words, humble swagger and love for cars. In the best way possible, “Go fast and risk everythang.”