David Abbot "Ab" Jenkins, also known as the father of salt flat racing, has proven to be one of the most influential race car drivers in history—and not just because he shattered several records and set several more.
The son of Welsh immigrants, Jenkins was born in Spanish Fork, Utah, on January 25, 1883. He originally worked as a building contractor, but in 1925, he began racing Studebakers against Union Pacific trains, beating them by larger and larger margins.
In 1932, he decided that the Bonneville Salt Flats, near Salt Lake City, Utah, was the perfect place to continue to improve his racing speeds. With his race cars, dubbed the Mormon Meteor I, II, and III, Jenkins garnered worldwide acclaim as he set record after record, including driving at an average speed of 161 mph for 24 hours straight (a record that would stand for 50 years)! Such races require a tremendous amount of endurance, yet even as Jenkins's fame reached legendary status, he refused to resort to coffee or other stimulants to keep him alert. In fact, he was well-known for drinking a glass of milk after a race and talking openly about the Word of Wisdom and the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy.
In 1956, with the help of his son Marv, Jenkins completed his last race, breaking the record for class-C stock car racing. The previous record was 109 mph for 24 hours, but Jenkins achieved an incredible 118 mph for 24 hours. He passed away later that same year at age 73. In 1957, General Motors introduced the Pontiac Bonneville in his honor.
Jenkins loved his Salt Lake City community and served as mayor from 1940 to 1944. And as a final gift, he sold his beloved Mormon Meteor to the city for $1.
Over the course of his driving career, Jenkins amassed more than 2 million miles, setting many records and making the Bonneville Salt Flats the racing mecca it is today—accomplishments that made Ab Jenkins one of the great pioneers in the early era of racing.
Learn more about Ab Jenkins and the Mormon Meteor in the documentary Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt, narrated by Patrick Dempsy.
BONUS: The Mormon Meteor III was featured on Jay Leno's Garage in 2013. Watch below to learn more about this legendary car.
The documentary Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt tells the fascinating true story of an unsung hero and self-made man, David Abbott Jenkins. With almost super-human stamina and boyish charm, he set out to single-handedly break every existing land speed record on his beloved Bonneville Salt Flats. More than a century later, many of “Ab’s” records remain unbroken, and his legacy lives on in his custom car. The story comes full circle when Ab’s son Marv, restores the 12-cylinder, 4800-pound “Mormon Meteor” to its glory days for a ceremonial lap on the salt.