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The Epic Saga of the Surfers - Part One

How Three Bucks-Down Geeks Single-Handedly Put Top Fuel on Its Collective head

By Cole Coonce, Photography by Car Craft Archives

To: Joe Buysee, Lansing, Michigan
From: Mike Sorokin, Mar Vista, CA

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the nice letter. I'm glad we didn't disappoint you at Bakersfield. It's fans like you that make our efforts worthwhile.

I'm sending you a T-shirt. It's used, but clean. I'm sorry I have to send you a used one, but there are no new ones around. I don't think we will be in the Michigan area this year, but maybe next season.


Mike Sorokin & The Surfers

On the absence of the idler pulley, Skinner is nonplussed. "We figured we could just get along without it; so why have it if you don't need it?"

In 1966, Leong's engine czar Keith Black went on record in HOT ROD as defining a mixture of 75 percent nitromethane as "heavy." Ergo, 100 percent was not just volatile—it was certifiably insane. Of course, this was the percentage that Skinner and Jobe considered ideal for their tune-up. To The Mighty Surfers, cutting the nitromethane with alcohol was even more absurd and non-linear than using a blower pulley. More is good; too much is better, right? But were these yin and yang yahoo alchemists pushing the envelope of internal combustion beyond its tension threshold? Had they gone too far?

On the contrary: At this moment, The Surfers were the manifestation of a phenomenon that happens in physics all the time. When envelopes are pushed, the parallel lines of, say, method and madness, bend and distort, and at some point they are no longer parallel; at some point they actually intersect. Method and madness become the same thing...Madness becomes rational. The Surfers had reached that lucid intersection.

Hi Joe,

What's happening? Not too much going on around here. We're building a covered trailer for our tour, and we don't have much time for racing at the present time. Our race with the Goose (Tom McEwen) will be our last local race.

Our car isn't exactly beautiful, but it is functional. Beauty doesn't always get the job done. We are building a new car, which should be pretty nice looking. Full body and all that trick stuff.

Well, maybe I'll see you pretty soon.


Hier depicts "the lunacy" of Skinner and Jobe's fuel mixture: "They originally started at about 50 percent nitro, but Jobe didn't like the (lack of) accuracy of the hydrometers. He thought they were a bunch of crap because they couldn't get the right mixture on them, you were never sure what it really was so he said, 'If you just pour it out of the can we could eliminate that (uncertainty).' That was Jobe: Eliminate all the mistakes. So instead of mixing it and getting a bad mix he said, 'We'll run a 100 percent.'"

Another theory was that the beakers were too expensive for The Surfers' budget. Ironically, this is a rumor Skinner and Jobe perpetuated. It was really quite unnerving to see Sorokin gleefully pouring pure, undiluted nitromethane into the tank—all because his team couldn't afford any more beakers. Skinner expounds on the "no hydrometers" rule this way, "What we used to say was that we didn't want to break the hydrometer," he says, "but basically what we were trying to do was get as much energy out of the fuel as possible. Our game plan was about try and maximize the potential power that was available in the fuel. It took a long time to do that."

So what was the formula? "100 percent," he answers. "Well not 100, but close...we had some stuff we put in there, y'know? We had some additives that took some percentage, something anybody could buy to stabilize things a little the neighborhood of one or two percent."

Jobe concurs about the mix, but adds that the decision to use it was strategic on a variety of levels; most importantly, it shrewdly negated The Surfers from falling prey to their own pranksterish tactics. "Since most of those guys could add nitro and kill their motors—we couldn't add any more because we already had the whole thing, right? We had it planned that you couldn't destroy the thing almost no matter what you did. The other guys would typically run 70 to 80 percent nitro, and if you could get them panicked, they would add another 5 or 10 percent and blow the thing up."

By Cole Coonce
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