Behind The Scenes: Wrc With The Hoonigans

I’m going to wager a guess that Ken Block and Hoonigan Racing Division are names that need no introduction to this, or virtually any audience these days. Despite having never won a WRC stage, let alone a championship, it seems to boggle a lot of minds as to how Ken has become such a popular driver. Hell, even I didn’t really get it until I spent a weekend with him and his team in Mexico.

Full disclosure: the guys from Hoonigan Racing Division extended an offer to invite me down to Mexico to see what WRC was all about and bring it back to the Speedhunters readers. What they didn’t do was at any time ask me to write anything about Hoonigan or post any photos of Ken or the car. They just wanted me to see how radical WRC is; I’m simply writing this story because it’s something I feel needs to be said.

There’s a lot of bad information floating around on the Internet and these days it’s really hard to get a good idea of what’s legit and what is just make-believe hearsay. After seeing how Ken and his team operate I felt inspired to share what I saw going on both behind closed doors and in front of the public eye.

Sure, Block isn’t the fastest driver and he’s certainly under no illusion that he is… but I think he is having the most fun. Over the course of five days I don’t think I ever saw this guy without a massive grin on his face, he really loves what he does.

I also rarely saw him without at least ten cameras shoved in his face, including my own which I’m sure was of no help! But he manages to take everything with stride and still enjoys every minute of the event, whether it’s driving the stages, the post-run interviews…

Or the mental autograph sessions. In my opinion if there’s one person who deserves to have his seat based on effort and excitement, it’s Ken. I also happen to believe that he’s a great ambassador for the sport and, whether or not you like it, he’s helping to pump more money back into rally and create new younger fans that will grow with the series.

I’ve said before that Ken is like the Happy Gilmore of rally, but all kidding aside, there are a lot of parallels there. While he might not be rallying to buy back his grandmother’s home, he is certainly the new “bad boy” on the block (no pun intended) and a lot of people wish he wasn’t competing. But, also like Happy, he has managed to draw a massive fan base to the sport that probably wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about rally otherwise.

But I know that still isn’t enough for some naysayers, so let’s ponder a few facts and figures for a minute. Ken has only been rallying for about seven years. I don’t mean he’s “only been in seven WRC seasons”, I mean that prior to that, he had never even driven a rally car.

For him to come into a top-level WRC event and not finish dead last by an hour is a pretty amazing feat. Secondly, keep in mind that Ken is forty-five years old which makes him the oldest driver currently contesting WRC by a ways…

When you add the ages of Ken and his co-driver Alex Gelsomino, they’re probably good for a combined 15 years-plus on the next oldest driver pairing. In fact, they might even be one of the oldest teams to ever score points in WRC history. Wrap your mind around that for a minute.

In Mexico the two put down a very good showing and finished 7th overall, their best finish to date. Not bad for a couple of “old men”, the driver having only been wheeling for just over a half-decade. One can only imagine what Ken could have been capable of if he had started driving on ice and snow at the age of ten like so many Scandinavian champions did.

But I don’t think Ken really minds. I’m not suggesting that he wouldn’t like to be faster, but the impression that I get is that every day he wakes up and gets to go rallying is a dream come true to him. On top of that, he is extremely grateful to have this opportunity and is beyond stoked that he gets to do this stuff. It’s pretty inspiring honestly.

So how does one get to go racing like this some of you might ask, while others are thinking “oh come-on, I could do that too if DC Shoes and Monster Energy would open their checkbooks for me!” I’ve heard rumors so bizarre that I just had to laugh, and you’d be amazed at how many people are convinced that Ken owns Monster, which he doesn’t.

Another thing that I hear a lot is that Ken doesn’t really care about rally and he’s just doing this to sell more shoes. That just flat out pisses me off. If there’s one person on this planet that is doing this for the sheer love and enjoyment of the sport, it’s Block. And since he’s long ago sold off his share of the company he co-founded, I wouldn’t imagine that selling shoes is much of a priority these days.

What seems to be at the front of Ken’s mind is having a blast in a car and spending time with his family. In reality, the team runs on a shoestring budget compared to the likes of a factory works effort, which is part of the reason they don’t contest an entire season. Once again, the fact that they can take a customer racing car which hasn’t been driven in nearly a year and score points is beyond me.

The amount of testing and tuning that Hoonigan Racing Division actually do is a fraction of what the guys running at the front are putting in. The team is fully aware that in order to finish better they’ll need a lot more money, man power and R&D which they haven’t got. But rather than just throw in the towel, they do it to have a good time and do it with smiles on their faces.

Now if I seem to be going on and on beating a dead horse I do apologize, it’s just that I too at one point believed some of this misinformation to be true. After seeing how the team respects each other, the rally and the fans, my mind has been completely changed.

Seeing Ken interacting with his fans is something else, and I have absolutely no idea how he does it. He seems to be a man that posses an unlimited supply of patience, something I most certainly lack.

It was a rare occurrence to see him not offer a fan an autograph, even outside of the official sessions. And when he did his signing at the Monster booth he ended up going over by more than half an hour, yet even still not everyone was able to get a signature.

I could tell it bummed him out to have to send away people empty handed. I know if it were possible he would wait and sign every last shirt, hat and body part if he could, but there are only so many hours in the day.

Even when he thought it was safe, his very own Monster co-workers were trying to sneak in pics and autographs. After a long day of sitting in a gnarly rally car and being physically drained, this is about the last thing I’d have the energy for… but Ken not only obliges, but does so with a smile.

If that isn’t the face of someone who absolutely loves what they do, I don’t know what is. I believe Ken genuinely loves his fans, and not in a conceited way. Having spent many years managing athletes at DC Shoes he’s learned the importance of appearances and treating your fans well. Nobody else in WRC has nearly the presence of this dude.

But he seems to be pretty much non-stop stoked no matter where he is during the rally. I think it was at this very moment that I realized how excited Ken was about WRC as he stood and just watched the runs at the Super Special like a spectator. It was then that I began to draw a few parallels between us.

I’m not saying that I think I could ever be a world class rally driver, but simply that I cannot believe how fortunate I’ve been to have my life throw me the amazing curveballs it has. At some point in our past we both did something that gave us the opportunity to stand on common ground in Mexico and I think I speak for us both when I say there was a resounding “pinch me I’m dreaming” feeling that weekend.

Don’t assume for a minute that just because he’s always having a killer time that Ken isn’t busy working hard though. He definitely takes his job very seriously and every one of the few remaining waking minutes that he isn’t driving, signing or unwinding with his family are spent reviewing data, checking feeds and managing Hoonigan Racing Division.

I knew going into the event that Ken was a pretty busy and extremely popular guy and the last thing I wanted to do was hinder his race weekend in any way. I had virtually made up my mind before I got off the plane that I would leave him be do to his job, surely the last thing that he needed was another journalist trying to get all buddy-buddy with him.

Then the most mental thing happened, time after time he came up completely unprompted and just started talking to me. At times it was almost like he seemed more interested in making sure I was having a good time and left with a good impression of WRC than he was in the race. It became very clear to me that this is something he holds very closely to his heart.

As I frantically and excitedly told him about my day’s adventures I could tell he saw the joy in my eyes. It was at that very moment that I realized why Ken does what he does. He’s not in it for the fortune or the fame, or to sell shoes or energy drinks; he’s doing this because he loves rally and he wants to share that passion with others. I believe his mission is to create more fans of the sport he loves so much, and if that was his goal then I have to admit that weekend in Mexico he converted one more – me.

Thank you Ken.

WRC Leon coverage on Speedhunters

More Rally coverage on Speedhunters

More stories by Sean Klingelhoefer on Speedhunters

-Sean


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67 comments
LieYandiLeonard
LieYandiLeonard

I have been a WRC fan since a kid, and I am really happy that I can see faces like Ken Block on the event.  Even when Kimi Raikkonen decided to try it I almost drop my jaw off. And now even Robert Kubica is in the game, and he is seen trying out a new Subaru rally car. Everyone who knows rally should know it is super hard to compete in, and should respect every driver out there. Even when not winning, the way they fly through every turn and jumps in snow/dirt/asphalt makes it very clear that they are going over the limit of driving and it shapes them to be the best driver ever. If you look closely you will realize that every driver have their own style, even their own facial expression when driving; like Jari Matti Latvala who always look calm and cool with those glasses. 

I will always envy those guys. I wish Ken is in full season so he can master every course. The way some drivers are getting off and on the event at some countries is a bit confusing. By the way, his Gymkhanas is supernatural.

EmersonTrimble
EmersonTrimble

Great write up Sean! Having seen Ken at NEFR several times I'd have to agree, his enthusiasm and love of rally is quite contagious. After Mitsubishi and Subaru pulled full factory backing from the Rally America series I didn't anticipate it staying as fun and exciting as it had been. Quite the opposite as what he and a few others did was to seemingly bring in a much younger crowd that wouldn't have usually gone out to these kind of races. The mans got style behind the wheel as well, probably one of the most exciting guys to watch slide around a corner.

HurtOnDirt
HurtOnDirt

Sean, I do believe we met shortly on the Monster Truck at the ceremonial start in Guanajuato thanks for the wristbands.

here: http://contour.com/stories/wrc-mexico-2013-guanajuato-ss1-k-block

Here's video of Mr Block from photo #10 above. It was amazing being able to take a break from Wrenching for Dustin, and watch the best drivers in the world rock the rally.

http://contour.com/videos/watch/wrc-mexico-2013-otates-1-k-block

Feel free to get in touch if you want an insiders view of the OregonTrailRally.com.

CraneRallyCrew.com will be there in the PurplePanda again!

guReMcO
guReMcO

I think the rallying and motorsport in general needs more people like him. He brings in new fans and sponsors that are really needed. And he enjoys what he does so what could be better?

reno808
reno808

Very well posted. I met Ken Block when he was coming up and doing local events. He is the same guy as he was before as he is now. He is literally out there to have fun. I remember i waved him down, he got out of rally car, took a picture with me, gave me an autograph, popped the hood and explain a bunch of things and let me sit in the car while it was on. 

BenjaminSaucier
BenjaminSaucier

Great article, I truly believe Ken is a entertainer. That's just the vibe he gives off. He enjoys what he does and he does what he enjoys. I respect that. I think he could do a lot more from a competition side of things but entertainment he has mastered.

John117
John117

Great article Sean its amazing how many people think he is just in it for himself is amazing, which as you said is he doesnt he does it because he loves it. Rallying has declined in the past few years as there used to be so many different manufacturers and now there are just two of them and the rest are privateer entries, so i say come on Ken keep doing what your doing as the sport needs all the help it can get !!!!!!!!! 

Qu1N7
Qu1N7

I've always been a fan of Mr. Block, people are always talking shit about him but I think you nailed it right on the head, is he the best driver in the paddock? No but he's not rallying to win a championship, he's doing it because he loves it and he wants to try and bring new fans and youthful sponsors to a frankly flagging sport and for that we should all salute him.

xracer6
xracer6

Welcome to the rally fan family =D

tbtstt
tbtstt

Another great article Sean. I'm personally one of the rally fans who doesn't have a problem with Block. In some respects I think his own PR (and the army of internet fan boys inspired by it) are his worst enemy when it comes to convincing the older rally fans. As your article points out though, Block himself doesn't proclaim to be the greatest driver out there, he's just having fun. And if there are any rally followers out there who wouldn't do the same thing if they had the money and were in his position, I'd say you're not much of a fan!

jdmflash
jdmflash

The only issue Ive ever had with Mr.Block is when he stopped racing for Subaru...dissapointed me, esp. since he went to Ford. But hey, I dont know all the details of that exchange. I respect him otherwise as a figure within the automotive community , and he has most definetly placed rally racing on many peples radars(me being one of them), with his gymkahna videos in particular.

wavin
wavin

Even in kens driving you can see he loves his fans, whenever possible he puts on a show to keep the fans entertained, but thats only my opinion

Phishy
Phishy

He's good for the sport, fun to watch, and by all accounts seems like a cool dude. I'm pretty sure if any of us had the resources and even a sliver of talent we would give it a shot in whatever our dream career is. I will never understand the crap this guy gets, it's not like he mis-represents himself...

MattdPhoto
MattdPhoto

@DirtFishRally I respect the man, his hard work to be better as a driver, the attention he is bringing to rally, but im just not a fan

Rowdy
Rowdy

Bingo Sean. I've been around this team in the same way you did last week and that is what I've taken from it too. For KB, it's Family (They're great)-Fun(He's always happy)-Fans(Always signing autographs)-Rally Addict (like we would dream of doing)in that order. Of all the "gentlemen drivers" he's in it for the right reasons. Shame he can't get a couple more WRC rounds in this year. Enjoy it while it's here as we may not see another like it come around in a long time.....

KeithCharvonia
KeithCharvonia

Why does Ken Block rally?  I think it's pretty simple:  BECAUSE HE CAN!  

AndersHaugen
AndersHaugen

Awesome article! We really need more of these!

HertLife
HertLife

Awesome job dude, nice meeting you out there.

graham curry
graham curry

Great read indeed, as a business man he could sponsor a golfer, an athlete or a soccer team but NO, Ken promotes his business himself by doing something he is passionate about.

 

OK he will never win a WRC championship but hell he is having fun and getting faster, I just wish he was able to commit to a full season for a couple of years and with experience and pacenotes via a few seasons could see him in points on every round.

P_Joel
P_Joel

Ahhhh, Sean, your so lucky to have been nexto to Ken! i've knew Ken from being a constant apearing person in old's Rob Dyrdek's clips, then i've realized he's also recently entered in a carrer of rally driver. For being a skater and a fan of rally (and other motorsports) i could not be more than happy to know that Ken is the person that it really apears to be! I really wish him the best. Having fun is the way to go.

 

Congrats for the awesome coverage!

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

Ahh yes indeed you did! Not a bad vantage point up there considering how packed in the ground options were! I actually tried to get to the perimeter to snag a different shot but failed entirely lol. I'll definitely keep in touch as we expand our rally coverage in the future. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @guReMcO Most definitely, it's great to see someone like him getting involved in motorsport. I would love to see more people like that involved!

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @reno808 That's exactly what I mean, he's super down to earth. If he can put a smile on your face and/or make your day, he will. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @tbtstt Ya I'm pretty sure we'd all kill for the chance to do this, but I doubt most of us would even be half as good as Ken. Yet armchair racing drivers still feel the need to slam him, doesn't make any sense to me.

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @jdmflash Ironically there are a lot of people that are upset with Ken after he moved on from Subaru, but the simple fact of the matter is this: Subaru doesn't build current WRC car anymore. Ken is a customer of Ford/ M-Sport meaning his program is arrive and drive, I would imagine that if Subaru offered something like that he'd consider it, but they don't. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @wavin Ya he definitely does man, a showman for sure. If you can't win, might as well go out in style haha. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @Phishy Yep, he's just a dude living the dream and enjoying every minute of it. Not sure what's to hate on there. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

Ya I think you're absolutely right about the "enjoy it while it's here" attitude. I think that even the people that dislike Ken will miss him when he leaves the sport. Sort of the whole "you don't know what you've got till it's gone" idea. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @HertLife Thanks man, good meeting you as well! Hope to cross paths and compare beard stats in the future. 

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @graham curry I think you're absolutely right and it is a shame that things didn't work out differently. But to be honest I don't think Ken would want to spend that much time away from his family and the risks required to win at this level are probably higher than a family man is willing to wager. Nevertheless, it is a great "what if". 

tbtstt
tbtstt

 @sean klingelhoefer Speak for yourself. I've carried out thousands of hours of intensive training watching rallying DVD's and playing DiRT 3. I mean, how hard can it be?... ;)

 

tbtstt
tbtstt

 @sean klingelhoefer  @jdmflash Well said Sean. I'm a huge rally fan, especially of Subaru (and SWRT back in the day). The reason I longed after, and eventually bought, an Impreza was because of rally. But even I could see the logic in Blocks switch to Ford. As much as I love Subaru, any serious rally fan should still respect Ford: They have been involved with the WRC from day one, produced a number of iconic rally cars (including perhaps the most iconic rally car of all time) and are the only current manufacturer in the WRC who have continually made any sort of attempt to reflect that in the showroom.

 

AmirIzham
AmirIzham

 @sean klingelhoefer  @Phishy I'd say it's jealousy mostly. Hell, even I'm jealous of him and I am a rallyist myself. 

 

also, DC, Y U NO SELL the DC Pro Spec 1.0 anymore? lol.

 

and Sean, please keep up the good work of putting rallying into the spotlight. this can only do good to the sports.

andrewhake
andrewhake

 @sean klingelhoefer  @KeithCharvonia Ken is one of the very few drivers that is truly in it for the right reasons. He is a driver in it for the love of driving, plain and simple. He has also come up with a much better method of sustaining a very unsustainable involvement in motorsport, not to mention putting his money where is mouth is to put himself where he is now.

 

Thanks Sean for the great photos and write up, and big thanks to Ken for everything you do! Now bring a WRC event to Northern California and I will truly be happy! The Santa Cruz mountains are begging for a WRC event! :D

sean klingelhoefer
sean klingelhoefer moderator

 @tbtstt Ya I'm actually fairly certain I'd be a multiple-time world champion, I just didn't want to sound too full of myself :p

andrewhake
andrewhake

 @sean klingelhoefer  I meant to clarify more on "He is a driver". So many people these days are just "car guys", driving is a completely foreign thing to them. These are the guys you spend most of their time building replica track cars that are actually just show cars that get parked at meets, they eventually run out of ideas, sell the car, and start all over again. Then their are "drivers", you can put any car in front of them, and they will have fun with it. Plain and simple.

 

Be a driver.


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