SONIC Drive-in carhop Nate Snow-Cornelius is on a roll.
The Taylorsville roller skater and three friends are already two-time national champions in jam skating (a mixture of dances, mostly breakdancing, on wheels).
Now he's one of seven finalists competing to be America's No. 1 carhop.
Not bad for a 20-year-old who didn't start skating until 2009.
"I have a lot of dedication," said Snow-Cornelius of his quick rise to the top.
The 2011 Jordan High School graduate traveled to SONIC's world headquarters in Oklahoma City last week , all expenses paid, to represent "America's Drive-in" in American Fork in the Dr Pepper/RC Sports SONIC Skate-Off. He showed off his carhopping skills in an obstacle course and flashed his signature footwork and flair in a freestyle competition, all for a chance at the gold medal, $1,500 cash and bragging rights as the best skating carhop in America. As a finalist, he'll also receive a pair of skates worth $1,000.
But he'll have to wait three weeks to find out if he won: The winner of the contest will be announced in September at SONIC's national convention in San Antonio. Snow-Cornelius and the other finalists will be there to perform.
"These seven finalists combine the best in skating and carhopping skills while exemplifying the fast, fun and friendly service our customers love," said John Salama, vice president of training for SONIC, in a news release.
"Fun" is the word that Snow-Cornelius feels best exemplifies him.
"My whole routine is all about having fun," he said, "fun and games â¦ When it comes to competition, my personality comes out, especially in my smile."
His footloose personality was a big part of his making it to the finals. In the video he submitted to enter the contest chosen from more than 300 sent by SONIC carhops from across the country the skater flashes his pearly whites while careening through cones, spinning food trays and busting "windmills" one of his biggest breakdance moves, but difficult to do on rough, unforgiving pavement.
So where did he learn to do crazy legs, headstands and toe jams?
One source was his skate crew.
Snow-Cornelius started skate dancing in 2010 at Classic Fun Center in Sandy, wanting "to try something new." He and three friends soon formed Quadrum Skate Crew with the goals of popularizing jam skating in Utah and winning the World Skating Association's National Jam Skating Championships.
To that end, the high schoolers practiced late into the night, sometimes until 3 a.m., working on original moves and tweaking popular ones but not before finishing their homework. They even took ballroom, hip-hop and gymnastics classes to refine their technique.
The work paid off. Quadrum won nationals in 2010 and 2011 in a field dominated by teams from the East Coast, where jam skating is more popular.
Competitors had their doubts about the Utah boys: "Everybody thought we were wanna-bes," Snow-Cornelius recalls.
He said he also gets inspiration for new moves when he's on the job at SONIC in Sandy and American Fork.
"I was making a shake one day," he said, "and a new footwork move came to me" while observing the spiraling motion of the blended cream.
But then catastrophe: The milkshake blew up in the novice's hands, but out of that creamy chaos was born "the exploding monkey" (He and his friends eschew traditional names like "windmill" in favor of ones like "double cheeseburger without lettuce," a further testament to his fun-and-games personality).
His move isn't easy.
Step 1: Squat down and spin on right foot.
Step 2: Jump.
Step 3: Land on left foot and continue the spin.
Snow-Cornelius and his friends, now called Classic Sk8 Crew, continue to fine-tune their original moves in hopes of defending their national championship in December.
And should he be declared the winner of the SONIC Skate-off, it could be considered a repeat win for Classic Sk8 Crew: Teammate Adrian Aguillon, of Kearns, was the 2011 national champion.
In the meantime, Snow-Cornelius and his crew teach jam skating classes every Wednesday at Classic Fun Center to about 75 kids, all members of Classic Sk8 Crew.
Jam skating, he says, is great for the mind and body. His lesson to kids: "Don't try to become the best skater. Try to become the best person."
View carhop in action
Snow-Cornelius' submission video
Snow-Cornelius jam skating at SummerJam2012