Iconic rally driver Ken Block lends 15-year-old daughter a 1,400 hp monster

The rally car dances, drifts, and drag-races as a character in the Forza motorsport and CSR2 video games.The car even has its own show on YouTube, Hoonicorn vs. the World, which since it debuted in 2020 has amassed nearly 48 million viewers. 
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| Updated on: 30 Nov 2021, 01:42 PM
The Hoonicorn car has been updated with a roll cage, paddle shifters, and a full-halo seat to protect the driver in case of impact. (@kblock43/Twitter)
The Hoonicorn car has been updated with a roll cage, paddle shifters, and a full-halo seat to protect the driver in case of impact. (@kblock43/Twitter)

Being the child of automotive royalty doesn’t mean you can handle a 1,400-horsepower stunt car.

“The first time I got in that car, I was scared I would not be able to drive it," says Lia Block. “Because that thing wants to kill you!"

Lia’s dad is Ken Block, the mastermind behind the popular Hoonigan channel that celebrates stunt car driving and racing on YouTube.

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Since he founded it in 2013, the brand has expanded beyond videos to sell merchandise, build cars, and organize a racing series. The car Lia is talking about is the Hoonicorn, a modified-beyond-recognition 1965 Ford Mustang that Ken Block built with Ford Performance and a bunch of aftermarket suppliers.

(Also read | World’s first drag race between flying electric cars feature Airspeeder MK3)

The car dances, drifts, and drag-races as a character in the Forza motorsport and CSR2 video games, and appeared in two of Ken's famously death-defying gymkhana videos that created a “hooniverse" of fans. (As in the equestrian world, car-focused gymkhana events are speed trials that feature a series of obstacles confronting drivers. Block's most famous obstacles have included semitrucks, Sasquatches, BMW riders, a guy on a Segway, and Universal Studios.)

The car even has its own show on YouTube, Hoonicorn vs. the World, which since it debuted in 2020 has amassed nearly 48 million viewers. The series shows Ken Block racing it against such supercars as a McLaren Senna, an Audi RS 3, and a 1,110-hp Chevy Nova Dragster. Season 2 starts on Nov. 29 and will run for eight episodes until yearend.

Having ended his exclusive partnership with Ford in January, after 11 years, he is free to pursue deals with other automakers—though he can’t drive a Ford vehicle in an official capacity. At 15, daughter Lia will be behind the wheel for Season 2.  

“It was my dad’s idea," she says. Lia had driven the Ford Performance Hoonicorn a couple of times before shooting the new season, but says she was surprised when her dad asked if she wanted to drive it for the series. “They were trying to figure out who was going to drive the Ford since he couldn’t, and when they asked me, I was like, “I dunno!" It happened very, very fast."

(Also read | Gen 3 race car for Formula E unveiled, claims to be more ultra efficient)

Shifting Gears

The passing of the crown, as it were, to Lia signals a significant downshift for Ken, 54.

“This is definitely a new chapter," he says. “I have obviously been doing all this for a long time now and am starting to slow down a bit, because my kids have gotten busier and busier with this sort of thing." (Block shares a second daughter, 12-year-old Kira, and a son, 10-year-old Mika, with his wife Lucy, who is also a decorated rally driver.)

Before joining Ford in 2010, Block made his fortune co-founding and then selling the skateboard footwear company DC Shoes for $87 million in 2004. A former skater and snowboarding champion, he mastered the challenging art of drift, a technique where a driver intentionally oversteers through a corner, losing traction while maintaining control.

Block started throwing heavily modified Subarus sideways into corners around the country. He competed in extreme races such as the Americas Rallycross Championship and in the X Games, earning more than 30 wins and 50 podium finishes. Signature racing wheels and an extensive line of merchandise (hoodies, beanies, T-shirts, gloves) followed.

So did millions of fans, who loved the wild driving, epic film sequences, and hooligan-like (troublemaking) attitude of their leader. Since founding Hoonigan in 2013, Block has amassed 4.6 million YouTube subscribers and nearly a billion views on his YouTube channel; his platforms total 40 million monthly views. More than 80% of Hooniverse viewers are under the age of 34. (A spokesperson declined to specify how many are female.) 

On Sept. 28, Block announced he would work with Audi to include a new gymkhana visual series starring an Audi e-tron electric car. The project, dubbed Electrikhana, is scheduled for 2022. 

He has also turned his focus toward endurance off-road racing. In November, he participated in his first Baja 1,000 off-road endurance race, finishing fourth. 

“One of the great opportunities I have nowadays, with not being locked in with one [automaker], is being able to go out and race with Porsche and a trophy truck and a rally car and work with Audi on the EV," Block says. “It makes for a great menu of options."

Building the Perfect Driver

He has been designing Lia’s ascension for years.

“It’s not like we threw her in this car with no skills," he says. “We have been able to build this toolbox of skills that she has now been able to apply and get more experience."

Lia earned podium finishes as an 11-year-old driving UTVs in the Lucas Off-Road Racing Series. She first did donuts in a  serious road car—a manual 1978 Ford Escort Mk2 RS—at 13. Last year, for her 14th birthday, pro driver Vaughn Gittin Jr. gave her drifting lessons in a souped-up 1990 Mustang GT convertible. In November, she competed in her first rally, the Oregon Trail Rally. (A rally is a race on public or private roads with cars that have been modified or specially built.) A late-stage engine break hamstrung her podium hopes but not her enthusiasm.

“Rally is definitely really fun—I’ve always loved the dirt," she says. Physical and mental endurance, as well as picking racing lines, reading maps, patience, aggression, and regulating fuel levels, are all of critical importance.

Season 2 of Hoonicorn vs. the World will feature Hoonicorn challengers such as a Toyota MR2, a Tesla Model S Plaid, and a 4,000 horsepower Corvette dragster; each episode will feature Lia taking them on in a best-of-three, no-preparation drag race. Professional drag racer Leah Pruett, Audi specialist Hank Iroz, and master car builder and racer Sage Thomas helped prepare Lia for the grueling shoots and automotive duals. Lia completed all of it without a valid driver’s license because she is too young to obtain one. (She does hold several racing licenses.) A road-going license is not required for closed-course racing.

“They gave her some good lessons and experience that gave her the range for everything from the top level of the National Hot Rod Association [drag racing’s governing body] to how to trash talk and negotiate car lengths in street racing," says Ken. “It was all the things I was lacking when I started."

The Blocks declined to comment on the possibility of a dual gymkhana video featuring them both; a spokesman for the brand indicated a high probability that Ken would appear in at least one Hoonicorn vs. the World episode, probably in a car opposing the Hoonicorn.

Ken Block doesn’t mince words when comparing Lia’s driving skills to his own at her age. At 15, he was skateboarding and riding dirt bikes: “She would have smoked me," he says.

First Published Date: 30 Nov 2021, 01:42 PM IST
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