Happily, it was DC that gave longtime rally freak Block the route to the rally stage, with a little help from X Games star and DC athlete Travis Pastrana. Pastrana - a talented, lovable twenty-five-year-old nutjob and extreme-sports phenomenon whose career highlights include landing the first competition double backflip in freestyle motocross - had turned an exploratory rally stint in the 2003 Race of Champions into a full-season seat on Lance Smith's Subaru-backed Vermont SportsCar rally team. He first inked a sponsor deal with DC in 2004.
"Before I signed with DC, I was friends with Ken, and I liked the company a lot," says Pastrana. He's kneeling in front of his Subaru, icing down a knee injury ("My doctor says I can start putting weight on it next week") and getting ready to climb behind the wheel for the next stage. "I ended up needing a new shoe sponsor, and Ken said, 'OK, well, we can make you a deal. If you help me get into rallying, we'll sponsor you.' " A week later, Block was introduced to Lance Smith.
Unlike Pastrana, who was so quick out of the box that Smith had to slow him down in order to help him learn, Block wasn't blindingly fast from the start. But he was good, and more important, he was determined as hell. "We call guys like him gentlemen drivers, right?" says Smith. "Show up, write a check - well, we've done this before, and usually, those guys are only so impressive. Ken showed up, wrote a check, and was fast. We were, like, 'Oh. This is a new twist.' "
If that weren't enough, Block was also a down-to-earth ordinary guy, a humble dude from L.A. who just loved the sport - the complete and total opposite of the typical self-centered, rich-jerk racer. Intrigued, Smith put him through the same training program that Pastrana had gone through, including a stint at Tim O'Neil's rally school in New Hampshire and personal training from both Pastrana and former American rally star John Buffum. Block's dedication proved to be more than a little surprising: "Every chance Ken gets, he's at a test with us," says Smith. "Even if it's just an hour-and-a-half drive, he flies across the country to do it. He wants to be involved. He's got a trainer, he eats properly for the rally - this isn't stuff we asked him to do, and honestly, I don't think the other drivers are doing it." Block even went so far as to build a special rally practice course, dubbed the Gravel Lab, near his vacation home in Utah to allow himself extra seat time. (Sadly, due to complaints from Block's neighbors, the track no longer exists.)