Ken Block - Subaru Rally Racing

Sam Smith
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Andrew Harvey Pej Behdarvand Lars Gange

Subaru Rally Team USA principal Lance Smith stares into the woods, arms crossed, his eyes fixed and narrow beneath a dark pair of sunglasses. He leans over and begins to speak, but he gets only as far as, "The thing about Ken Block . . ." before being cut off by the sound of spraying gravel. A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution launches out of a crop of trees at 70 mph aimed straight for his chest, only to pitch sideways under braking at the last minute and catapult down the road. Smith, unfazed, picks up where he left off: ". . . is that, out of all the guys here, while he may not be paid the most, he definitely puts the most into it."

Things grow quiet for a moment, and then the storm begins anew. The popping, musical whistle of a turbocharger's antilag system and the staccato, angry-farm-tractor bark of a water-cooled flat four fills the air. A black and white Subaru Impreza WRX STI slingshots between two stands of trees, more sideways and carrying more speed than the Evolution before it, and like the earlier race car, it appears to be headed for Smith's breastbone. Smith grins a little but doesn't flinch. A towering wave of gravel spews from the STI's outside rear tire as it slews into the corner, blanketing the hundred or so gathered spectators with a soupy, blinding fog of dust. As the Subaru flies by, close enough to touch, I can just make out the lettering on its rear door: B-L-O-C-K.

As the dust settles, a couple of preteen boys in the crowd start to chatter. I'm able to catch bits and pieces of their conversation: ". . . he's a good rally driver . . . I like his shoes, and he's cool . . . oh, and did you see that snowboard thing he did on the mountain? That kicked ass."

Ken Block chuckles and adjusts the oversize brim on his sponsor-clad baseball cap. "What we did in New Zealand, with the snowboarders? I was just having fun. The thing is, growing up skateboarding and racing dirt bikes, competition was only a very small percentage of the time that I spent riding or skating. With rallying, it's the exact opposite - 95 percent of my time in the car, I'm here racing. That's why I like to go out and play with the car if I can. I just really enjoy it."

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