The clothes had an urban feeling yet were functional for skaters. The shoes used non-slip material on the soles and laces that couldn't come undone. The shoe line ultimately became known as DC Shoes.


By the late 1990s, skateboarding and other action sports had gone mainstream, opening up a larger market for the company. In addition, DC's styles were popularized by rap-rock bands such as Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill. In 2003, the company had revenue of about $100 million. A year later he sold DC to Quiksilver Inc. for $87 million.

Block still works in brand marketing for the company. He also moved to Park City, Utah — where he lives with his wife, Lucy, and three children — to have easier access to the ski slopes for snowboarding and downhill mountain biking.

He also became obsessed with racing rally cars, a closed- or open-course competition with hairpin turns, hills and jumps. Like the sports of his youth, rally racing balanced danger and talent.

It didn't take long for Block to become hooked and in time become an action sports athlete himself, much like those he approached years earlier to market his sports gear.



Block learned his driving skills sliding around the tarmac at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

He competed in a gymkhana event on an obstacle course that required drifting around an array of obstacles within a time limit and performing 360-degree spins and figure eights. In order to improve his technique, he began recording his practice runs on video.

"We just filmed one day when I was learning to develop my skills as a driver. You know, fooling around and stuff," Block said. "Well, we put the footage online not thinking anything of it, and within a week, it had a couple hundred thousand views."

His first professionally produced video, "Gymkhana Practice," filmed at the El Toro airfield, was a hit. In the second video, "Gymkhana 2," filmed on the docks at the Port of Long Beach, Block began decking out his car with logos of DC Shoes and other sponsors, and his business was born. He's since made three more videos, each one becoming more intricate and choreographed than the last.

The third was filmed just south of Paris at an oval track with 51-degree wall banks where Block performed his signature doughnuts. The fourth was on the Universal Studios back lot and involved studio props, a Bollywood dance troupe and the shark from "Jaws."

His most recent video is a wild ride on the streets of San Francisco that makes Steve McQueen's roadwork in "Bullitt" look amateurish. To capture the footage, Block hired a team of about 70 and used 10 cameras.

Block's five gymkhana videos have had more than 200 million views on YouTube. Their success has given him a fan base that extends to his racing career, but it has also drawn critics, who have posted snarky comments on YouTube videos of his crashes. In various chat rooms, he is dismissed for being more of an entertainer and marketer than a sportsman.

"The purists might not understand, but these days, every successful race car driver has to have a little P.T. Barnum in them," said Ralph Sheheen, a lap-by-lap race announcer for auto sports channel Speed. "The real fuel in auto racing is money, and Ken Block brings that in for his sponsors. When he makes a video, it spreads like wildfire."

Jamie Allison, director of Ford's racing division, said Block was the perfect person to market the Fiesta, a front-wheel-drive subcompact car, to a younger crowd. His work behind the wheel, Allison said, has gained traction with a teenage and millennial crowd more inclined to watch a 10-minute stunt video than a three-hour track race.

"Ken can help us connect with a new generation of fans and enthusiasts," Allison said. "We have seen a disengagement in the next generation of drivers. The number of driver's licenses among young people has dropped. Meanwhile, we have seen a consistent increase in the number of young people in action sports.

The Federal Highway Administration confirms the trend: Fewer licenses are being issued, and fewer miles are being logged among drivers ages 34 and younger.

Block is aware of the crowd he needs to appeal to. "I'm a dude in his mid-40s, who acts likes he's in his 20s," he said. "But I don't plan on stopping any time soon."

william.hennigan@latimes.com