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Fall 2016 83


August 15, 2015

The story of the Surfers Drag

Race Team is one of the better

known anecdotes in top fuel drag

racing in the mid-sixties. That was

the time just before drag racing was

making the transition from ama-

teur to professional, especially in

the dragster classes. The Surfers

team consisted of Tom Jobe and Bob

Skinner, who built the car and en-

gines, and Mike Sorokin who han-

dled the driving. They became

famous for running a very stripped-

down, no-nonsense dragster with-

out a sponsor. They never even had

their names on the car.

The Surfers had a casual, laid-

back attitude and dressed very con-

servatively, looking like the other

kids they knew in Santa Monica.

Without their names on the car not

many competitors at the Southern

California drag strips even knew

who they were. They rode skate-

boards in the pits so they were

called “the surfers.” At first Jobe

and Skinner weren’t even aware of

it and eventually they went along

with the name.

Their dragster wasn’t one of

those cutting edge, pushing the en-

velope cars. Jobe and Skinner were

just detail-oriented. Skinner, espe-

cially, was extremely observant and

able to learn from others—both

what they did right and what they

did wrong. They became top con-

tenders by using a higher percent-

age of nitromethane than anyone

else (96% vs. everyone else’s 70%-

80%). In 1966 they won at Bakers-

field, which was considered the

Superbowl of drag racing.

Skinner and Jobe met in high

school when they discovered they were

both interested in cars and drag rac-

ing. After high school they went to

work in Jobe’s father’s machine shop

and after getting fired, rehired, fired

again and rehired again, Skinner fi-

nally quit for good and went to Ger-

many where he got a job in a machine

shop as an apprentice toolmaker. He

didn’t speak a word of German.

Skinner returned to the U.S. in

1962 and got a job at Shelby American

as a machinist and fabricator. He liked

the job and enjoyed working around

Cobras. At night he and Jobe

worked on their dragster. By 1965

their dragster had become pretty

successful and Skinner quit Shelby

American in order to campaign the

Surfers’ dragster full-time with

driver Sorokin. Jobe stayed home to

cut down on expenses. When the

team needed replacement parts,

Jobe’s job was to ship them. They

did well enough to continue doing it

but Skinner soon became disen-

chanted by the increasing costs and

the encroaching professionalism en-

tering the sport as well as sponsors

and the pressure to keep them


After the 1966 season both

Skinner and Jobe moved around

from one motorsports project to an-

other. Skinner went to work for

Mickey Thompson on his Land

Speed Record streamliner. Sports

car contacts from Shelby American

got him and Jobe positions on John

Cannon’s Can-Am team in 1968.

The high point of that adventure

was at Laguna Seca when it rained

and the narrow rain tires allowed

Cannon to win the race.

At the end of the 1972 season

Skinner declared that he and racing

were done. And that was it. He

never looked back and never wanted

to talk about his experiences; no in-

terviews and no reunions. He had a

unique talent for evaluating me-

chanical problems and finding solu-

tions. He was never a fan of formal

schooling, but was successful at

learning from his own experiences.

Eventually he moved to an apple or-

chard north of San Francisco where

he lived until his death.