Photos by Mike and Jeff Burghardt and Darr Hawthorne
Words by AA/FD
Four-time March Meet winner Jim Murphy with tuner Roland Leong (above)
In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of “the Surfers” winning the 1966 Bakersfield March Meet—an epic donnybrook of a drag race that many nitromaniacs consider the purest ever—“Surfer Nation,” an online appreciation society for the infamous Surfers AA/Fuel Dragster team, will grace the Top Fuel winner of this year’s March Meet with the “Mike Sorokin Award.”
In 1966, Mike Sorokin and his madcap skateboarding teammates, Tom Jobe and Bob Skinner—a/k/a “the Surfers,” outlasted over 100 AA/Fuelers to win a three-day motor-riffic marathon. The team’s unorthodox, gonzo approach—heavy on the nitro percentage, mind tricks and chicanery and low on cylinder compression and finances—inspired generations of drag racers in the decades that followed.
“Two wise guys (Skinner and Jobe) showed up at the track and said ‘Please and thank you’ to their parts, and listened to what the parts were telling them,” is how Bob Higginson, administrator of “The Surfers” Facebook Fan Page and the catalyst behind the Sorokin Award, explained what made the Surfers’ March Meet win so inspirational. “Simultaneously, they produced more power than the world had ever seen, while increasing reliability to levels that flat out embarrassed their peers.”
Sorokin defeated a red-lighting James Warren in the final round of the 8th Annual March Meet, after setting both Low ET with a quarter-mile clocking of 7.31 seconds and Top Speed at 210 miles-per-hour.
And now, fifty years later, a coterie of fierce fuel-burning warriors in front-engine dragsters will meet to outwit and outdrive each other at 260-mph speeds while fighting for both Top Eliminator at Bakersfield, as well as the Sorokin Award.
Among those suiting up are Mike’s son, Adam Sorokin (above), who manhandles the “Champion Speed Shop” dragster. Adam, whom Mike barely knew before an unfortunate fatal accident at Orange County in 1967 upended their mortal kinship while Adam was still a baby, has already done his Dad proud by winning the 2010 iteration of the March Meet. Another title, specifically this one, would be that much sweeter.
“I fully intend, to the best of my ability, on keeping that award in the family,” Sorokin said.
Another drag racer with his eye on the prize is the 1995 March Meet Top Fuel winner, Pete “Fritz” Kaiser, who has returned to the cockpit after tuning fuelers over the last decade. This weekend he will be both tuning and shoeing the “KMA Racing Circuit Breaker.”
“Winning the March Meet would be cool, but being able to bring home the Mike Sorokin Award with that win would be awesome.” Kaiser said. He then elaborated about his new team’s connection to Skinner, Jobe and Sorokin: “The KMA/Circuit Breaker team is a lot like the Surfers team was in that we don’t have a lot of money, but what we do have is a team of people that love Top Fuel racing.”
Including Sorokin and Kaiser, seven former March Meet winners—Bill Dunlap, Jim Murphy, Rick White, Jim Young and Tony Bartone (above)—are all swinging for another shot at Kern County’s most coveted chalice.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to win the March Meet four times and have been chasing a fifth time for what seems like forever,” Jim Murphy, driver of the “WW2” entry said. “The last 18 months has been very difficult for the WW2 team as we’ve had all kinds of issues. In fact, I would have to say it has probably been the worst 18 months of my racing career. If I were to win my fifth March Meet on the 50th anniversary of the Surfers’ triumph here—WOW—that would rank at the top of the list.”
Murphy has a real shot after pre-season testing yielded very favorable results. “I feel we will be coming to this race as a contender, not a pretender like we’ve been for the last year and a half.”
Dunlap, driver of the “High Speed Motorsports” machine has won the March Meet twice, both back in the 1990s. His car owner and tuner, Tom Shelar, has no time for sentiment and wants to propel his driver to a third March Meet Title.
When Adam made his thoughts known about keeping the Award named for his old man close to home, Shelar was having none of that sentiment.
“I’ll let you come visit it from time to time, Adam,” Shelar told him.-30-