By Mike Larkin and Ron
In 1958 Tom Carstens sold
a Lister-Chevrolet to Al Dean of Dean Van Lines for Bill Pollack to drive
in the first "L. A. Times Grand Prix" at Riverside. The car was a disappointment,
having brake troubles, high-speed front-end lift, and overheating problems.
The Lister was sold to
the Fike Plumbing racing team out of Phoenix Arizona. Wayne Weiler (a big
name in sprint car racing), Jim Conner and Don Hulette raced the car for
two years for Fike with little success. Hulette won the consolation race
at the 1960 "L.A. Times Grand Prix" at Riverside putting him in the big
main event for Sunday.
Early in the big race Hulette
tried going into turn two too hot and rolled the car into a ball, broke
his leg, and set the car on fire.
Don Hood, who was working
in Don Hulette's pit that day, offers his recollection of the accident:
"I was in the pits at Riverside when Don had his flaming wreck in the Fike
Plumbing Lister-Chevy. Don was looking to make a pass on someone but found
that visibility from the cockpit was difficult (I think that everyone that
drove a Lister complained of that!)
As he approached Turn 2
he tried craning his neck to see where the prospective passee was and missed
his braking point. This resulted in him sliding off but he thought he had
it saved. Unfortunately, the track maintenance folks had left a small pile
of dirt adjacent to the exit of the turn and this launched the car into
an end-for-end flip.
The car landed tail first
and ruptured the fuel tank and Don found himself sitting in a god-awful
ball of fire. Somehow he got out and the Los Angeles Times ran a photo
the next day of Don running from the inferno. Obviously he did not have
a broken leg. As I remember, all he got was some relatively minor burns."
After the race, Bob Sorrell
ended up with the wreck. Bob took the car back to his shop in Westchester,
where he and Jim Larkin shared space. Sorrell thought that with some modifications
to the frame, brakes and power, the car could still be a contender.
Two years earlier Sorrell
and Larkin created a fiberglass sports car body specifically designed to
fit a new car Larkin was building. The body was based on an earlier Sorrell
design; however, the new version was more contemporary.
Mike Larkin (Jimís younger
brother and apprentice laminator) layed-up three of the new bodies for
Sorrell. One went on Larkinís Special, one went to Andre
Gessner for his Chrysler Special, and the last went on the Sorrell/Larkin
Sorrell quickly put his
Special together making the planned modifications and then powering the
car with one of Jim Larkinís potent Chevys. The first time out was at a
Cal Club race held at Riverside Raceway in 1961. The car was driven by
Eric Hauser of Ol' Yellar #1 fame. Eric also tried to qualify the car for
the "L.A. Times Grand Prix" but the car still had all of its past characteristics.
Eric stated "that car was
terrible! It had plenty of power but no brakes, and if your hand twitched,
the car would spin!" Sorrell thought that Hauser was just a bit timid because
of his earlier crash in Ol' Yellar #1 in April of that year.
The next to try his hand
at the car was Jack Breskovitch. Jack had the same problems as Eric and
soon gave up the ride.
The demise of the car came
at a Cal Club race held at Riverside Raceway in March of 1962. This time
the car was to be driven by Bob Johnson (Iím not sure if this was the same
Bob Johnson that became a Shelby Cobra hero or a local guy).
During the first practice
session Bob lost control and went over the turn one fence. He wasnít hurt;
but the car caught fire and burned again. This time, however, the magnesium
wheels caught fire and could not be extinguished.
The track people had to
bring their skip loader to the crash site to cover the car with dirt in
order to put the fire out. At the end of the race a fitting symbol of a
cross was put over the dirt mound where the Sorrell/Larkin Special came
to its final rest.
It was the only ever car
to be buried at Riverside Raceway.
Itís ironic that the car
was destroyed at the very same place that Hauser had crashed Ol' Yellar
#1 approximately one year earlier. Some people get those stories confused.
Some think that Ol' Yellar #1 was buried at turn one at Riverside Raceway.
Sorry about that, it was
the Sorrell/Larkin Special.
May it rest in Peace.
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