The Sorrell-Larkin Special
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, Jim’s younger brother and apprentice laminator, layed-up three of the new bodies for Sorrell. One went on Larkin’s Special, one went to Andre Gessner for his Chrysler Special, and the last went on the Sorrell-Larkin Special. Sorrell quickly put his Special together making the planned modifications and then powering the car with one of Jim Larkin’s 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. During the first practice session Bob lost control and went over the turn one fence. He wasn’t 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 became the only ever car to be buried at Riverside Raceway. It’s 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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