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Monday, July 9, 2007
Updated: July 27, 5:22 PM ET
Faces of X: Ken Block

By Andy Kamenetzky

From the ground up: Ken Block can ollie while driving. Can you?
Ken Block is not the front man for Sister Hazel, nor is he a retired NHL defenseman. He is, however, co-founder of DC Shoes, and he may just be the only action sports company owner to have his own sponsors. Going into X Games 13, we chatted up this Block about his first live television appearance, jumping cars and all things rally. What did you think about rally's inaugural X Games?
Ken Block: Being live on TV in front of millions of Americans is the type of experience you can't really explain. The pressure was unlike anything I'd ever felt in my life. I have a lot of experience under my belt—lawsuits, company acquisitions, hiring and firing—but nothing compares to that 1.5 minute stage at the end of last year's rally. I was happy to walk away with a bronze medal. What was the biggest source of pressure?
KB: The opportunity to win an X Games medal, along with the "win it or lose it" factor in the last stage. I wanted to make sure I walked away with that medal. I don't think the pressure will be at the same level this year since I've been through it. Did X Games help raise Rally's profile?
KB: For sure. I don't think most Americans even knew what it was, and having it in a high profile event like the X games is a great way to showcase it.
Losin' more teeth playing basketball than crashin' cars... How impressed were you with Travis' gold, considering the experience gap between him and Colin?
KB: The whole team was stoked to see Travis do that well. He started off really fast and was able to keep the pace. I couldn't keep up, but that's the way it goes. Travis was in the right place to benefit from Colin's little mistake. It worked out incredibly. Anything new for you, either with equipment, shoes, car adjustments, etc. going into this year's games?
KB: (Long pause). I don't think I'm at liberty to say. I wouldn't want to tell the competition what we're doing, right? Is there a particular aspect of this year's race that you're looking forward to?
KB: We're doing a head to head crossover type of event, where we cross over and switch lanes over a 70-foot jump (perhaps small potatoes for Block, who recently jumped 171 feet on the Discovery Channel's "Stunt Junkies"). Is your experience with that kind of jump a potential ace up your sleeve?
KB: Definitely. If you make a mistake—jump too far, too short—it can have some bad results as far as what happens to your car. A lot of my competitors haven't jumped a car like that before. I'm at an advantage because it's something I'm more comfortable with.
Block and Gelsomino be kickin' up dirt and puttin' in work. How do you view rally's position within X games and action sports in general?
KB: It's one of those things where there's a lot of interest in it, but it's not something that you can easily do. It's not like skateboarding or BMX. It's hard for people to get their heads around because it's not as attainable as those things. Rally is difficult because of how technical the cars are and how far away the races are. It's gaining popularity, but I don't think it's 100% there yet in the action sports community. Do you think rally could become a fixture within the action sports community?
KB: Up until the last couple years, people didn't even know it existed in America. You go to Europe and it's on television all the time. Now we're getting some eyeballs and people are appreciating it more than in the past. It's the second biggest motor sport in the world and it's only in North America that it isn't as popular. It's fun for us to help bring it into the limelight. Do you think some of the older school drivers like Colin McRae resent the fact that the sport is becoming more "hipster?"
KB: That's a U.S.-centric question. For someone like Colin McRae, rally is huge, and when he goes to an event overseas, he gets mobbed. When he comes to America, he doesn't get the same reaction. He'd like to see it get bigger because it's a sport he loves. For him, it's unnatural that it's so small in the U.S. For us, it's a matter of giving the U.S. the reality of what the rest of the world sees in rally. The X Games is a great vehicle to make that happen.

You may have a sweet Impreza, but you ain't driftin' like this. On a marketing front, when you incorporate rally into an endemic skateboard entity like DC, does it alienate your core consumer?
KB: We are a skateboard shoe company. We've always been a skateboard shoe company. That is our primary audience. That is our primary focus. That's where our primary marketing dollars are spent. But if we try to remain just a skateboard shoe company, it restricts the brand and the number of outlets where we could sell. We want to be a bigger brand than just a skate shoe company. So we started making snowboard boots. We got into Motocross, BMX and surfing. And we see rally as another way to promote the brand to consumers of different markets. So to a certain extent, yes. No matter what, we alienate some of our core consumers because of our size and the things we do, but at the same time, we try our best to make the best product with the best marketing to stay true to where we came from; and that's a well-built skateboarding shoe.