Ab Jenkins

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Ab Jenkins
Duesenberg SJ Mormon Meteor.jpg
The Mormon Meteor, at the 2007
Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance
Born David Abbott Jenkins
January 25, 1883
Spanish Fork, Utah
Died August 9, 1956
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Cause of death
Heart Attack
Resting place
Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park,
Salt Lake City, Utah
Employer self-employed building contractor turned professional auto racer
Known for set numerous World land speed records, 15 of which remain current, mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah 1940-1944. when he died, at age 73, in 1956, he had established more world's automobile records than any man in history.
Home town Salt Lake City
Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Spouse(s) Evelyn Thorstenberg Jenkins
Children Marvin Edward Jenkins, Edna (Anderson), Ruth (Player)

David Abbott "Ab" Jenkins (January 25, 1883 – August 9, 1956) was the 24th mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah from 1940 to 1944 and was a professional race car driver. Jenkins' interest in motorsports began with racing motorcycles on dirt tracks and cross country. He then became interested in land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. He was instrumental in establishing Bonneville as a location for such events, and in attracting overseas drivers such as George Eyston and Sir Malcolm Campbell to compete there.

He drove the Duesenberg "Mormon Meteor" [1] to a 24-hour average land speed record of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) in 1935. In 1940 Jenkins set the 24-hour record of a 161.180 mph (259.394 km/h) average that lasted for 50 years (until 1990).[2]

He died on a visit to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[3]

Safety record[edit]

Often called "The World's Safest Speedster," Jenkins was the father of salt racing. .Jenkins drove more than a million road miles without ever being involved in accident.

Early Days and Records[edit]

Born in 1883, Jenkins, a Utah building contractor, got his start driving a Studebaker in 1925 when he raced a Union Pacific train from Salt Lake City to Wendover beating the smoke-belcher by five minutes. Next, in 1926, starting from New York City, he drove a Studebaker touring sedan to San Francisco in 86 hours, 20 minutes again besting the train by 14 hours. Records were set in Pierce-Arrows as well as a 68 mile-per-hour salt flats run on an Allis-Chalmers farm tractor that he remarked was "like riding a frightened bison" before building a series of purpose-built salt flats cars.

Considering his limited resources, Jenkins enjoyed remarkable achievements, something on the order of Will Rogers with a motorized persona. He was a deeply religious man, who put his faith in God, and by God, he went far, especially driving his “Mormon Meteor” speed machines. Harvey Firestone was an avid admirer. Jenkins became pals with New York Metropolitan Opera Singer Richard Bonelli when they were working as mechanics before Bonelli discovered he could sing. Bonelli attended many of Jenkins record runs and often instigated a song fest with spectators joining the famous baritone as Ab whizzed past. Jenkins racing fame coupled with his congenial, outgoing nature got him elected Mayor of Salt Lake in 1940 without ever giving a speech, or spending a nickel on a campaign. He served until 1944 setting 21 speed records while in office. His one-man 24-hour record averaging 161MPH, stood for 50 years, beaten in 1990 by an eight driver team. Jenkins exhausting, 48-hour record is still on the books together with 15 other FIA records from 1940.

After some full day runs, he would hop out clean-shaven, having used a safety razor after the last gas stop while circling the track at over 125 mph with no windshield. In 1956 GM’s Pontiac executives hired Jenkins and his son Marvin to drive its stock-model Series 860 Pontiac around the famous 10-mile salt circle track. The pair recorded an average speed of 118.375 mph shattering all existing American unlimited and class C stock-car racing records in the process.

Ab drove almost two-thirds of the 2,841 miles himself gulping down milk and orange juice handed to him by his wife or daughter during his 30-second fueling pit stops. Father-and-son dominated the record book claiming a total of 28 records.

Ab's Passing[edit]

A 1957 Pontiac Bonneville, the rarest of all Pontiacs--in honour of Ab and Marv

In August that same year, Ab went to drive a Pontiac pace car at the Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Returning to his hotel from a baseball game with Pontiac executives George Bourke and Robert Emerick on August 9, Jenkins noticed a billboard with a farm tractor on it and started telling the men about his 1935 wild ride when he suddenly grabbed his chest and died of a heart attack.

The next year, General Motors introduced the 1957 Pontiac “Bonneville” in honor of Ab and Marv’s achievements making it the first, and perhaps the only car to ever “earn” its name and not simply be “given” its name by an automaker.

Of the 630 limited production run, each dealer got only one, making it the rarest of all Pontiacs ever produced. The new Bonneville was the fastest of the division – zero to sixty in 8.1 seconds thanks to the new fuel injected V8 that cranked out 300HP plus. All convertibles, all automatics, the car delivered loaded with options for $5,782 – approaching double that of the Star Chief Custom Convertible ($3,105) with which it shared the 124-inch-wheelbase chassis.

A Man of Merit[edit]

A natural born superb mechanic, Jenkins lived his entire life with unwavering honesty and enviable common sense that generated numerous successful promotions for sponsors because he was held in such high esteem by the general public. Certainly the first person to catch "salt fever”, Jenkins passed on the speed affliction to succeeding generations and racing continues to this day out on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.


  1. ^ "1935 Mormon Meteor Duesenberg SJ Speedster". Sports Car Market. November 2004. 
  2. ^ Ab Jenkins: Son Of The Salt
  3. ^ Oregonian, August 11, 1956, Page 15.

The Salt of the Earth - Ab Jenkins' Own Story of Speed byt Ab Jenkins and Wendell J. Ashton Bonneville Salt Flats by Louise Ann Noeth

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John M. Wallace
Mayor of Salt Lake City
Succeeded by
Earl J. Glade