When you’re a true driver, racing isn't just something you do, it's an identity. Like many other involved sports, racing defines who you are and determines your everyday activities.
For years, Ken Block and Tanner Foust have been living this lifestyle, shaping their days around the connection between themselves, the gas pedal and the gearbox.
Most people know Block from his Gymkhana videos – and for good reason. They’re exhilarating to watch, both for enthusiasts and for people who don’t even particularly care about cars or driving. There’s a reason his YouTube views go off the charts every time he posts a new video. Similarly, many people know Foust solely as a presenter on the US version of Top Gear. What everybody might not realize is that both men are primarily racers at heart.
We recently had the pleasure of listening to the two chat about racing at a Ford Racing team meeting. As we watched, they acted as though they were doing something wrong. Like they were breaking the persona people know them for.
“I’m sorry, we don’t see each other very often," Block said with a laugh. "So, when we do, all we talk about is racing.”
Nobody was about to stop them, so they continued. And I listened. As a racing fan, particularly of rallying, it was fascinating. It was sort of like one of those neat behind-the-scenes featurettes on a DVD. And although it may be the last thing that two people who constantly have to perform for the camera want to hear, I’m pretty sure an unscripted YouTube channel where they and other racers just sit around and chat about racing would get a lot of viewers.
When the topic of conversation is something you love, there is an ever-renewing source of energy, even when you’re jet-lagged and exhausted, to get you going. So was the case, when Ken Block described the biggest difference between the WRC and Rally America series. In his view, it's all about pace notes.
In WRC, drivers are responsible for making up and refining their own pace notes. This system rewards the most experienced drivers, because they’ve had the most in-car time to simply practice and refine their notes to suit each rally stage. Not so Rally America.
Instead, the racing organization hands out the same set of pace notes to every driver, and the racers race according to those pace notes. So, to be truly competitive in the WRC, a driver has to live and breathe nothing but those rally stages. This is the reason these drivers are probably the most talented drivers on the planet. They have no other choice. Living in Europe is really a necessity to gaining that much practice, as well as those greatly finessed pace notes; that’s why so few WRC drivers have come from America. Impressively, Ken Block is one of a very elite number of Americans who have ever scored points in the series throughout its existence. In fact, there have only been four American WRC competitors who have accomplished this feat. That’s it.
When you strip away, the commercial sponsors and microphones, it's easy to see the passion that fuels these guys better than VP-C16 117 octane in a twin-turbo Gallardo. Everything they do is a direct correlation to racing.
At this point in time, Block is competing in the 2013 Rally America season. For the season opening Sno*Drift Rally in Michigan, Block and co-driver Alessandro Gelsomino finished sixth. He also plans to compete in at least one WRC round this season. Foust’s US Top Gear series is currently running new episodes every Tuesday at 9/8C on the History Channel.