Ken Block is a busy guy. In 2011, the Rally racer and co-founder of DC Shoes will be attending nine of the 13 World Rally Championship (WRC) events, X Games 17, the Gymkhana World Tour, several automotive festivals and, according to his Website, "select RallyCross races and three top-secret events to be announced." Rally racing is Block's life these days -- not bad for a businessman who didn't get into the sport until his mid-30s.
With the March 2 announcement of the Global RallyCross Championship, those "top-secret events" are out of the bag. Block can't commit to racing in the series just yet, and no matter what he'll have to miss the first race due a WRC conflict. Regardless, he's looking forward to the exposure it will give his sport in the U.S. -- and the smart money says he'll make an appearance. ESPN caught up with Block shortly after he returned from a WRC race in Mexico.
You were inspired by Rally at a young age. How much has this sport grown in America since you were a kid?
I think the spectators and fans in general have had a huge growth from when I started in rally [in 2004]. At the last Rally America event I did it seemed as if the amount of spectators had tripled. Obviously, the interest in Travis [Pastrana] and myself over the years was something that exploded in rally. Take Facebook: Travis and I have more Facebook fans than any other driving athlete in the world, I think. So there is a genuine interest there. There is a lot of knowledge about Rally that just wasn't there before. It's been very cool to watch that process from when I started in 2005 to now. It's a very cool thing to see.
What's your opinion of RallyCross?
I enjoy RallyCross. I haven't done very much of it. I race and love stage rally. That's really the basis of everything I do. For me, RallyCross is a nice side project or activity to stage rally but I hope to do more of it in the future. I think it's fun and it's great to go head to head and race against guys and do it in a rally-type car in a situation where rally skills come into play -- on tarmac, in the dirt and over jumps, that sort of thing. I think it's a great variation of rally, a great sport, and I look forward to doing more of them in the future.
What are the biggest differences between the two? What new types of skills do you need to have to be successful in RallyCross?
For instance, my next World Rally event is in Portugal. Right now I am sitting in front of my computer watching 'in-cars' [camera footage] from that and I have over 300 miles worth of stages to study. These are very unique roads in the middle of Portugal that are very complicated. We have notes to help us get through those. The pace notes and knowing the stages is just a huge requirement and a huge undertaking to really get to know and get the stage notes perfect. Whereas in RallyCross, you're dealing with a short course where there are maybe 8-10 turns and you just have to memorize the short course and learn how to get through it as quick as you can. On top of that, rally is yourself and your car against the clock. I don't ever have to worry about other competitors trying to pass me or block me or knock me off the road where that is a big concern in RallyCross because you're competing against six other guys on the course. You have to get that lead and protect that lead. The type of driving style it takes to do that is completely different.
Is America ready for a series like this?
I think it really is. I think RallyCross probably fits Americans more than stage rally. Stage rally, to me, is something difficult to be a spectator of. You have to trek out into the forest and move around to various locations to watch the stages. It's actually a difficult way to watch a sport. RallyCross is more similar to the way Americans like to watch football, horseracing, baseball or even NASCAR where they can show up, have a beer, get an assigned seat and watch an entire event beginning to end all within a couple of hours.
That's the American way isn't it? Throw it in a stadium.
Yup. We got to have a hot dog, some beer and some peanuts and be able to see everything all in one sitting. I think that's one thing that stage rally here in America suffers from. The Europeans or South Americans will stand there and love it. An event in Argentina will have 1.5 million spectators out on stages over three days. They just love it and understand it that much. But I don't think that would happen here in America. It's just not the way Americans prefer to watch events.
What are the chances we'll see you at all, if not, some of the Global RallyCross events?
It's all a matter of cars and time and budget. We're working through all the issues now to see what we can do and we'll see what happens. I'd like to do as many events as possible. I'd like to do some Rally America events, hill climb events and RallyCross events. I really like the diversity of driving. I'm trying to do it all. I have a busy schedule of World Rally events, X Games and the Gymkhana World Tour so it's very, very busy.
You're going to have to clone yourself. It's the only way.
I'm a lucky bastard with the stuff that I get to do. We're just trying to maximize everything we can do every year and have as much fun while doing it.
The Global RallyCross Championship will run three events between March and June. The first event will be at Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, CA on March 25-26, 2011. More information on Global RallyCross Championship can be found Here.