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From Racecars to Aircraft to Tankbarges

Swiss Native and Mechanic Daniel Zufferey’s Journey

This article first appeared in the May issue of Towbitts, the official publication of Foss Maritime. By Bruce Sherman

As far as Daniel Zufferey is concerned, there’s a common thread that has woven itself through his career as a racecar mechanic and driver, as an airplane mechanic and pilot and, for the last 15 years, as a tankerman for Foss in southern California.


“From the race car to aviation it’s almost the same – It’s about safety because it’s so light and fast,” he said. “You don’t want the car crashing into the public, and after you take off in a plane, you have to land. You can’t park it in a cloud.

“My work as a tankerman is very similar. We pump 60 gallons per second so as I’m speaking here, we might have pumped 600 gallons. You want to make sure everything is right – the valves, the hose, the crane and the cable. You just have to check all of those things.”

Zufferey grew up in Lausanne, Switzerland, and had his first experience as a mechanic as an intern at a Porsche-VW dealership in his hometown. He subsequently worked as a mechanic for the Porsche Racing Division. One of his cars won the Swiss Rally championship in 1983, and another completed a 10-day desert rally in Tunisia, Africa, in which less than half the cars finished.

Along the way, Zufferey got his race drivers license, drove in some races, and he and his brother operated an auto-repair shop in Lausanne. But he had always been interested in aviation. He started flying gliders when he was 22, and circumstances later brought him to Santa Monica, Calif., where he trained and got his private pilot’s license.

Zuffrey working on a Pratt & Whitney radial piston engine on a Martin 404 aircraft

He subsequently went to an aviation school and earned a license that enabled him to work on airframes and airplane engines, got a commercial pilots license, and traveled between southern California and Europe, working on and flying airplanes, often DC-3s.

“I had a nice house in San Pedro, but for 15 years, I was always gone,” he said. “But I met a woman who had a boyfriend who was a tankerman at Foss. It was interesting. You have big machinery and a big barge and the safety element.”

The fact that his workplace, as a mechanic, is just 10 minutes from his house and he spends every night at home also makes a difference.

“Plus it’s wonderful to work in an environment like this where we have a good group of people.” Zufferey said. “It really makes a difference. It raises the safety level and everything else as well.”