Pro Rally Driver Ken Block’s Secrets to Success

Pro Rally Driver Ken Block’s Secrets to Success

In his latest display of automotive badassery, pro rally driver Ken Block—one of just four Americans ever to score points in the World Rally Championship race series—can be seen thrashing a custom 845-horsepower Mustang around the streets of downtown L.A., pulling doughnuts around cop cars and performing burnouts just feet above the iconic Hollywood sign as a helicopter films overhead. “That area up there is actually controlled by Homeland Security,” says Block. “They said, ‘We can tell you not to do something once. If we have to tell you something twice, we can shoot you.’ “

The video, Gymkhana Seven, is the latest installment in the wildly viral video series (200 million-plus YouTube views) created by and starring Block, the co-founder of megabrand DC Shoes. The clip, geared to promote his latest venture, Hoonigan (for “a person who operates a motor vehicle in an aggressive and unorthodox manner” his site says), a motorsports lifestyle brand, features the kind of brazen but entertaining antics that have made Block, 47, successful both on the track and in business.

On a recent trip to New York, he revealed to us the method in his madness.

You only started racing cars at age 38. How did you progress so quickly?

A lot of people look at car racing and go, “Oh, you just have an engine and it goes fast.” Yeah—but so does everybody else on the track; we’re all in roughly the same equipment. What it’s really about is who can set the car up the best and identify where to be fast or slow on the track to get the fastest lap time. It’s a combination of training and the level of experience you need to be at the top. Plus, I really enjoy that pressure of trying to be a perfectionist.

We’ve heard your gym workouts involve doing math.

A lot of what you do in the car is physical, to get the car around the track. But you’re also constantly identifying obstacles—other drivers around you, or track conditions; even the car itself changes throughout a race as the tires or brakes heat up. You have to adapt to those situations, so being able to do mental and physical things at the same time is very important.

In the gym, I’ll do something like standing on a balance board and doing one exercise, like a biceps curl, with one hand and a different exercise with the other; then my trainer will give me an addition or subtraction problem—say, 100 minus 29, something that’s not too easy or difficult—to do at the same time I’m doing those basic physical exercises.

I don’t need big muscles to go fast; I need mental and physical quickness, and reaction and sensitivity to what the car’s doing, so this helps gain that.

You’ve added kickboxing to your training. How has that helped you?

It’s become more important to me over time. It really is amazing—it’s quick, good cardio, and it utilizes the entire body because you’re using your legs and your arms and everything in between to do these very physical actions, and to try and do them as fast as possible. You don’t want to be a slow kickboxer

What would you say has been the key to your success in the business world?

The brands I do come from my heart. I made skateboard shoes because I was a skateboarder. And now we have Hoonigan, a motorsports lifestyle brand. The stuff I do isn’t really a “job” for me, because it’s my life. That’s something I see in a lot of successful people, from creative directors I’ve worked with to friends like Pete Fox at Fox clothing: It’s their life, so it’s easy to live it every day.