A Tribute to the Great Ken Block

Ana Cardona Izquiel, Contributing Writer

Ken Block, an American driver and important figure in the racing world, died January 2nd, 2023, in a snowmobile accident. Previously an ardent snowboarder and aspiring architect, Block started racing very late in life—in 2005, when he was approaching 40 years old. Despite having little to no racing experience prior to his debut in rally racing, he sped through the field. Instantly flourishing, he won the Rookie of the Year award in his very first season. In 2010, he became the first American to race in the World Rally championships, not only expanding his own reach within the racing world, but also the entire nation’s. However, his time in rally racing was just the beginning of his career in the industry.

Ken Block passed in the same manner that he was brought to fame: by taking perilous risks.

After retiring from competing in 2012, Block founded Hoonigan—a lifestyle brand for all things automotive—and established a massive platform consisting of nearly 2 million subscribers on Youtube and 4.5 million Instagram followers. Until his untimely death, the five-time X Games medalist led Hoonigan in refurbishing plain old cars into racing vehicles, performing and recording viral stunts, instituting his own racing division, and establishing a name for himself in the world of competitive and commercial automobile racing. 

In perhaps his most famous stunt, Block drifted one of his cars, known as the ‘Ford Focus Gymkhana 9,’ through a loading dock, at one point with his back wheels skimming the edge of the pier, barely inches from dropping into the ocean below. It was risky, it was skillful, and it was awe-inducing—it captured his essence in one masterful clip. 

His death occurred suddenly and quickly. While having fun in the snow during a vacation, his snowmobile upended on a steep hill and landed on top of him. As devastating as it is, Ken Block passed in the same manner that he was brought to fame: by taking perilous risks, looking danger in the eye without hesitation, and making high, seemingly impossible climbs without ever looking down at the precipice below. 

Block’s presence in the racing world did not just inspire millions of young racers around the world, it inspired his own daughter, Lia Block, to follow in his footsteps and take a seat behind the wheel. In a memorial post for his passing on Instagram, Lia wrote, “Yesterday I didn’t just lose my father, I lost my best friend.”

[Ford Focus Gymkhana 9] was risky, skillful, and awe-inducing.

Ken Block’s passing is an unexpected tragedy, and his presence both as an influential member of the racing community and as a loved one of many will be missed, but he leaves behind an significant legacy in his organization, Hoonigan.  On their official website, they left a statement for the public, saying, “Ken was a visionary, a pioneer and an icon.” In addition, his designated racing number, 43, will be retired from the 2023 World Rally Championships. The persona he leaves behind, that of a risk-taker and an avid entertainer, will be immortalized by his stunts and other racing content, which audiences have as a memento to enjoy and remember him by.

This article also appears in our January 2023 print edition.