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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

The Surfers: 96% Blue

by Dan Himmel

Any student of fuel drag racing history will tell you that the ‘60s were the pinnacle of the sport. The height of this "frenzy" was the years 1965, 1966, and 1967. Over one hundred fuel dragster teams ran two or three nights a week in southern California alone. One of the best loved, and most successful, was a team called The Surfers.

Bob Skinner and Tom Jobe had been racing together for a period of years prior to being joined by Mike Sorokin. Together the three, students at Santa Monica City College, turned the collective heads of the drag racing community, and changed the course of fuel racing history.

Skinner and Jobe began building their dragster in a garage space at the Red Apple Motel where they collected parts for their car. In Jobe's words, "Every day after work we'd hit all the garages…ask some questions ‘til they'd throw us out and then we'd go down to the next one. We (finally) found out enough stuff because we had to build the whole thing ourselves; we didn't have any money to buy anything." (Coonce, Cole. The Epic Saga of the Surfers. Petersen Publications Fifty Years of Drag Racing, 1999). Upon completion of the car, they began their search for a driver.

Their early efforts were not successful, and the team became the object of scorn by other local racers. After a succession of drivers, Mike Sorokin was tabbed, thus "The Surfers" was born.

Sorokin showed no fear in the cockpit, and soon the team began to enjoy success on the track. Mike had no interest in the mechanical operations, a fact the competition found unnerving, which was heightened by the team's ability to ready the car quickly, then spend their time amusing themselves in the pits riding skateboards. Fans and the media, however, loved their antics, and The Surfers gained a following.

Tom Jobe didn't like that the hydrometers used to measure the specific gravity of the fuel mixture were inaccurate, leading him to discover ways to run a fuel mixture of nearly 100% nitromethane, thus increasing horsepower. "Our mixture of choice ended up being 96% nitro and 4% toluene (with a drop of blue food dye just to mess with the folks)." (Jobe, Tom. "Running that 98% Part 2". 30 Jan.1999. Online posting. Header Flames. 30 Jan. 1999 http://www.nitronic.com/headerflames/). Such high percentages of nitro were generally used only in last-ditch efforts to increase power, often resulting in destroyed parts. For example, prolific match racer "TV" Tommy Ivo normally ran nitro content as low as forty percent. Parts attrition was a problem that rarely plagued The Surfers.

The culmination of their efforts came in March of 1966 in Bakersfield, California, when Sorokin drove through a sixty-four car field, including such notable racers as Don Garlits, Connie Kalitta, and Art Malone. He ran an all time low 7.34 second elapsed time, and defeated James Warren in the final, thus The Surfers became the first independent team to win the prestigious "March Meet".

On Labor Day weekend, 1967, they stunned the drag race world, suddenly selling their entire operation. Skinner and Jobe turned away from the sport and never campaigned a dragster again. Sorokin continued to drive for a variety of owners until, on December 30, 1967, he was killed when his clutch exploded, cutting the car in two, slamming him into the unforgiving track surface.

Briefly, a team of "bucks down" racers was the brightest star in drag racing's sky.

Their technological insight was responsible for a shift in the paradigm. Soon after their discovery, methods of running high "loads" became the norm, and the course of drag racing's history was forever changed.

Dan Himmel
jdeakins@excite.com

About the author:

Having grown up in the hinterlands of Montana, there wasn't much in the way of drag racing. I didn't attend my first race until 1973. It was at a small, local track in Glendive, Montana called Hustler's Dragway. In the fall of '72, I began to gain an interest in the sport, and when I saw the 25th anniversary issue of Hot Rod Magazine, I was hooked. Once I smelled nitro for the first time, the hook was set, and I am a fan to this day.

I build models, almost exclusively of dragsters, and the hobby has given me a chance to become almost intimately familiar with the subjects that I am modeling. To this point, my proudest achievement in modeling is my model of one of the cars that was featured in that anniversary issue of Hot Rod...Dick Kraft's "The Bug". The model is now a part of the collection at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. 

The Surfers story is, to me one of the most compelling in the history of drag racing. I was assigned a short paper in a college comp class, and chose to write of The Surfers. This is that paper. 

Dan Himmel

 

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