#KB43verFeb 8th, 2023
The late Ken Block was the man who taught a generation how to fall in love with cars. Since his untimely death last month in a snowmobile accident, tributes have poured in from around the world. Many from Subaru fans.
Although Block drove many cars throughout the course of a motorsport career that spanned nearly two decades, Subaru is where he got his start. He started racing rallies back in 2004 in an under-the-radar Subaru WRX STi at the Rally of the Tall Pines in Bancroft, Ontario and when he burst onto the USA rally scene early the next year, it was in an STi wrapped in a distinctive snow camouflage livery that set him apart from the field.
He started late: aged 37 and fresh off the $87 million corporate sale of the popular DC Shoes brand he co-founded. Instead of turning to weekend track outings and a little road racing, as so many others might have chosen to do in his position, he put his head down and chased his dream of becoming a rally driver.
Racing was a post-retirement endeavor for Block, and one that would eventually eclipse his remarkable business career. He chalked up countless wins in various championships around the world, became a household name the world over, and remains one of only two Americans ever to score points on the World Rally Championship.
But more than podium achievements, Block utterly redefined what it means to be a racing driver. He put his passion for outrageous driving first and built the viral Gymkhana video franchise that made fans out of many of us. Take a look back at the early Subaru videos where Block wrote the outline of what would become his legacy:
Even before Gymkhana, Block joined a DC Shoes shoot in New Zealand for a promotional DVD the brand planned to distribute. It is a lighthearted take on what was then an action sport film convention and it carries an air of the delightfully absurd. Back in 2007, nobody had ever seen anything like it before: and seeing a racecar out of its element, playing in the snow, makes you want to giggle.
SoCal Subaru shop Crawford Performance build a 600hp 2006 Subaru STI for Block to use in a nascent series of precision driving contests called Gymkhana. The series never got off the ground, but Block – ever the hard worker – had already begun to prepare for it. He invited some creatives along to film some of his practice sessions and together they crafted what would become the first video in the viral Gymkhana series.
Playing with the Informercial trope, the video is wryly self-aware and starts with a content warning that the piece contains “great looking products” combined with “motorsports eye candy.” The eye candy is a bit of both: take a look at that 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI hatchback:
If you haven’t caught up with the latest: watch Travis Pastrana as he brings the Gymkhana franchise back to its Subaru roots in a 1983 Subaru GL Wagon.