If you see a video of a car drifting with a Hoonigan banner across the window and a giant Monster “M” on the doors, you’re likely to assume that Ken Block is behind the wheel. He’s only been on the rally scene since 2014, and Ken Block has not only made a name for himself but an entire brand that represents who he is and what he loves to do.

The origin story of Ken Block is one that many of us can both relate to and take inspiration from. His story is simply one of a young guy following his passion and accepting nothing less.

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Ken Block, The Apprentice

Growing up, Ken Block wanted to be an architect. He loved to draw and was attracted to aesthetics and design. He also loved extreme sports like skateboarding and riding dirt bikes. Growing up in California, Block had access necessary to dive deeply into both of his passions. Shortly after, he became a draughtsman, but quickly realized that the career of an architect didn’t appeal to him as much as the art of it.

Ken decided to quit his job and moved to Colorado to become a self-proclaimed “snowboard bum.” He spent a few years learning the craft, meeting professional snowboarders, and befriending the locals. Realizing that his personal ability was limited and that he could never make his love for snowboarding a professional venture, Ken packed his things and moved back to the golden state.

Ken Block, The Entrepreneur

Still set to turn his passion into a career, Ken went back to school for design. While going to college in Palomar, CA, Ken became good friends with Damon Way, the older brother to legendary skateboarder Danny Way. Together, Ken and Damon combined their love for adventure sports and artistic design and began selling niche clothing to snowboard shops in Colorado. The stores were run by friend’s of Ken and were known to frequent many professional athletes.

Ken Block Ford Fiesta Electric Rally Car 2
via YouTube

Success didn’t come immediately, and they had started a few small, not-so-successful businesses until eventually creating DC Shoes in 1994. In the Tim Ferriss podcast, Ken admits that he had to borrow $10,000 from his parents to become equal partners with his friend Danny. By the end of 1995, DC Shoes brought in almost $7 million worth of sales.

DC Shoes growth and success led Ken Block into collaborating sponsorships and friendships with professional athletes. He credits his own personal success from being around such high-performers, and always working on his mental and physical health so he could keep on their level of performance.

In 2004, while Ken Block was the Chief Brand Officer of DC Shoes, Travis Pastrana, a friend, and DC motorsport athletes, entered into rally racing. Ken admits that this was the first time he had heard of rallying in the States. Looking for an opportunity to give it a try, he called up Travis’s agent saying, ‘I want to go rally racing, how do I do that?’

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Ken Block, The Rally Driver

Not long after, at the age of 37, Ken Block took his first rally lessons. He trained at Team O’Neal's’ rally school, falling in love with the sport and showing undeniable natural ability. With a lifelong dedication to adventure sports, it’s easy to see how it would translate over to motorsports. Quick reactions and good foot control can go a long way.

Ken Block Gymkhana One
via YouTube

In 2005, after completing his training in New Hampshire, Ken Block entered his first rally race season. He competed in the Sno*Drift event, and he ended up finishing a respectable 7th Place overall and 5th in the Group N Class. Later Ken had placed fourth overall in the Rally America National Championship, beating his good friend and mentor Travis Pastrana. Ken was also awarded Rookie of the Year.

The next year Ken and Travis Pastrana scored a sponsorship with Subaru, and his team was now known as the Subaru Rally Team USA. He competed in his first X Games rally event in a brand new 2006 Subaru WRX STI and took home the bronze medal. The following year he won the silver.

Via Barrett-Jackson

Ken Block and his co-driver Alex Gelsomino saw improvements each year. They won their first Canadian race in 2008, took first place in the Rally New York USA competition later that year, and another bronze medal at the X Games.

In 2010 Ken Block switched over from Team Subaru to Team Ford. His success continued in the open-class Ford Fiesta, and Ken Block saw his fifth win in Rally in the 100 Acre Wood. He saw less top five places over the next few years and by 2015 announced that he was switching most of his focus to his new company, “Hoonigan.”

Ken Block Hoonicorn
via Top Gear

Block’s sponsorship with Ford ends this year in 2021, making him a free-agent and resulting in the loss of the famed “Hoonicorn,” a 1965 Ford Mustang.

Ken Block, The Professional

Ken Block is undoubtedly an accomplished driver and a phenomenal athlete overall, but what might be most impressive is his branding skills. Ken Block doesn’t claim to have been much of a marketing person himself, but over the years, he has honed in on his business skills just as much, if not more, than his athletic skills.

Ken Block's Ford Fiesta Rally Car Up Close | Ken block
via: Pinterest

Ken’s marketing savvy naturally led him to leveraging it in his racing career and sponsorships. What set him apart from other rally drivers was that he was bringing his racing skills to the streets. In 2009, Ken Block and his team released the viral video GymKhana 2. A rally racing video shot in the style of a classic skateboard reel. For those who don’t remember, you had to go to Ken Block’s personal website to actually watch this video - meaning it was before YouTube was the main video platform.

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Each film became bigger and bigger, reaching over 500 Million collective views. The most notorious was the GymKhana 5, shot in San Francisco and shutting down the entire Bay Bridge. The most recent GymKhana video is Travis Pastrana taking over his hometown of Arlington, VA. 

The Hoonigan official website defines a “Hoonigan” as “A person who operates a motor vehicle in an aggressive and unorthodox manner, consisting of, but not limited to, drifting, burnouts, doughnuts as well as acts of automotive aeronautics. One who 'hoons'.”

Block’s company, Hoonigan Racing Division, is technically a motor racing team, but anyone in the car industry knows that “Hoonigan” is also a lifestyle brand. It’s a banner that drivers put on their window to show their love for motorsport or a simple logo t-shirt that signals a passion for driving with a little flick of rebellion.

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