Ken Block, the rally driver and titan of automotive culture, has died in a snowmobiling accident, at the age of 55. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.
After starting out as an amateur rally driver in 2008, Block shot to fame – and was arguably the catalyst in the car obsession of a generation – via his antics in the viral Gymkhana videos, beginning in 2008.
The ten official films (and four spin-offs), featured Block in what could be best described as an automotive ballet using specially-prepared cars in unlikely locations. Seemingly living every young car-lover’s ‘what if’ fantasy of closed-roads, sideways action and impossible precision driving, Block was the hero of a smoky sideways piece year after year.
With each video the stakes rose, the cars got crazier, the stunts more spectacular and the locations – spanning Hollywood, Dubai, Las Vegas grew in scope. Each year fans looked forward to what he’d come up with next and just how far the envelope could be pushed. Each also pushed the envelope in terms of how a car’s movement is choreographed and captured on film. It’s no overstatement to say that Block’s work changed the world of motoring media.
Photography by Harry Elliot
Early appearances on Top Gear, appearing on a segment with James May, earned him the undivided attention and worship of a new generation of car obsessives in Britain and the world at large, only increasing through appearances in the world of gaming, on DIRT, Need For Speed, Forza and more.
At the height of his popularity Block starred in a major documentary on Amazon Prime, going behind the scenes of his most ambitious Gymkhana video yet, which encompassed not just a single city, but the whole globe.
Over the years Block worked with Subaru, Ford, Audi and more to create increasingly spectacular machines forged to do battle with the laws of physics in Gymkhana and beyond. Specially prepared, each more bespoke than the last, the cars like Block himself, paired serious capability with inimitable taste-shaping style. Unsurprising, as one of Block’s original successes came as the co-founder of the DC Shoes brand. He also founded his own automotive company, Hoonigan Industries, which built most of the cars he used in Gymkhana and beyond.
But Block wasn’t just famous for his stunt driving. The man from California won a number of events in the Rally America championship in well over a decade of competing. He also took part in the WRC with Ford, scoring points several times on the world stage, and competed in the Global Rallycross and World Rallycross championships, again with Ford. He was a championship runner-up in both GRC and Rally America.
Block was a regular at our own Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard for a number of years, bringing most of his mad creations, leaving audiences awestruck at the spectacle of his balletic performances. His Ford Mustang Hoonicorn, F100 Hoonitruck, Fiesta RX43, Escort Cosworth ‘Cossie’ and more starred in Block’s repeated appearances, with the Duke of Richmond joining him as a passenger.
While Block officially ‘retired’ from doing Gymkhana in 2020, handing the driving reins of the franchise over to Travis Pastrana, he very quickly joined Audi to launch a new, all-electric series of videos. His first, called Electrikhana, was released just over two months before his death, and saw Block and an extreme, all-electric homage to the original Audi Quattro rally car, take over Las Vegas.
Photography by Jordan Butters
After his death was announced on 3rd January, tributes poured in from all around the motoring world, with Ford CEO Jim Farley saying: “This is heartbreaking. I was lucky enough to call Ken Block a friend. He was truly a legend and inspiration to all of us at Ford.”
More than anything, Block was an often timely reminder for all that love cars, that we’re here because cars are a passion and a conduit for fun. It’s said too often but in the case of Ken Block, there really were few others like him, not just in terms of what he could do behind the wheel, but what he represented. From us at Goodwood, his loss is a tragedy and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts go out to his close family and friends.