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The Epic Saga of the Surfers - Part Two

How Three Bucks- Down Geeks Single-Handedly put top Fuel on Its Collective Head

By Cole Coonce

Hi Joe,

How are things in the armed forces? Drag racing is getting rougher & rougher. We ran at Irwindale yesterday. It took a 7.57 sec. to qualify in a 16 car field. We broke in the third round after beating Gotelli-Safford and Tommy Allen. My writing is bad because I am holding my month old son, Adam. Very good looking kid.

Anyway, in about a month, I think I will be driving the Hawaiian. The new car we were building when we quit racing is almost finished, and it is without a doubt THE best looking car in drag racing. Richie Bandel, from Brooklyn (New York), bought the car. We all hate to see it go. The old car is still for sale.

Well, G.I. Joe, take care of yourself, and good luck.

Mike


Sorokin's next gig was driving for a titan of engineering, Ed Pink. The gig lasted for a couple of months. He then drove for Blake Hill for a month. Next, he got a call when Roland Leong decided to campaign two "Hawaiian" fuelers, one powered by a Chrysler 392 and the other sporting a newfangled 426 Hemi powerplant. "Sorokin drove the 426 car," recalls Leong, "and we won the Stardust meet in 1967 at Vegas." Keith Black was wrenching, Leong was cutting checks, and Sork was swapping pedals—a formidable collaboration on paper, but in reality one that failed to set the world on fire...It's not like they stunk up the joint, they didn't; it's just that this combination did not crush like Black, Leong, and Sorokin were all used to. When Leong downsized to one car, Mike Snively was the shoe.


Hi Joe,

How's things in the Army? Good I hope. I was very happy to have won in Las Vegas. The win was badly needed.

It doesn't take people very long to forget past accomplishments. I hope this won't be the only big win. The cars around here are unbelievable. We ran 7.26 last week and didn't qualify!

Keith Black is a pretty good guy to race with. He is plenty sharp.

Well, goodbye for now, say hello to your mom.

Mike


Reflecting on the trajectory of The Surfers' endeavors, Skinner says, "It was kind of a curiosity, kind of an adventure to go on." His reward was the process and not the goal..."I've taken a different path in my life than most people have," Skinner said. "I'm interested in life-long learning, and I'm trying to continually grow as a human being. My interests are much more spiritual and philosophical than trying to be famous or achieve something on a material level."

For Skinner, his dragstrip endeavors were informative on an almost existential level. "I'm sure that having the success (we had) did something for my level of confidence," he said. "It helped me realize that I could be independent, and I could solve problems and solve them in a different way than the average person. I see myself struggling with...structure."

Ironically, drag racing hipped Skinner to the structure inherent in the symbiotic relationship that exists between humanity, technology, and a given environment. "Tom is the person who masterminded our combination for the engine," Skinner continues. "A lot of it really was kind of like a science experiment. It was nice recently that we were honored at the banquet for the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. I thought to myself, 'What if someone asks me, 'how did you do that?' I'm not really sure, but I know on some level we made friends with all the parts, and we had very intimate relationships with each of the parts. In order to do that, you have to be able to look at the part and on an abstract level. You have a conversation with the part. You look at the bearings and the bearing kind of talks to you and tells you what it needs so it won't get hurt."


Hi Joe,

I was really saddened to hear about [name is illegible]. He was a VERY nice guy.

I was layed off at work. They didn't appreciate my taking two weeks off to go to Bristol.

We didn't even qualify. A 7.35 in the first round was good enough, but a 7.40 in the second wasn't. Plus the engine melted a couple of pistons. That engine is extremely temperamental. Only six days to the meet at Lions. I hope Black does the right thing and performs some of his miracles. He was talking about using an Enderle injector. That's the only thing that hasn't been changed in the engine.

Well, I'll talk to you after the 15th.

Mike


In the waning months of 1967, Sorokin was back at the strip, shoeing a somewhat generic slingshot under the employ of Bakersfield racer Tony Waters. In their three races together, they went out in the first round of competition each time. Sorokin and Paul Gommi, a fellow SoCal fueler freak, had ordered a new digger, and they picked up the chassis on December 29. The two of them looked forward to the holidays to blow over so they could get the car ready for the new season. "I talked to Mike the morning before we went to race in Orange County, see?" recalls Leong. "And what he did was he just picked up a brand new chassis from a guy in Colorado I guess, at the airport."

This was the last race for Sorokin as a hired gun. With Gommi, he would now be owner/operator.

"He didn't like the car he was driving, but that was a ride, right?" Leong says. "He was going to start putting together this brand-new chassis; he bought the chassis with his own money, and he wanted to know if I had some parts that he might need to finish the car up. I said, 'Yeah, we'll talk about it.' Then he asked me if I would be home Sunday..." Leong pauses when he remembers the weekend of December 30, 1967, when the flaws in the clutch technology were showcased in a most grisly manner.

By Cole Coonce
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