Salt Lake City mayor, Ab Jenkins, was known for his fearless racing speeds along the Salt Flats in Tooele County.
On Labor Day 1950, Utah native Ab Jenkins broke a bundle of national and world speed records on Utah's salt flats. He was 67.
Born in Spanish Fork in 1883, Jenkins started racing motorcycles on the west desert as a youngster. Later, when a highway was built across the salt flats, the road's designer—who was also a friend—asked Jenkins to race against a train as a way to christen the new highway. He beat the train by five minutes.
Jenkins soon became the man to beat on the Salt Flats. In 1932, he got the idea to build a circular track on the flats and race around it for an entire day and night at 100 miles per hour. Members of his crew had to shelter themselves under a sheep wagon, and he was timed using stopwatches. When it was time to start, Jenkins detached his car's windshield, smeared grease on his face to protect it from the elements, and took off. His average speed ended up being close to 113 miles per hour.
The popularity Jenkins won from this and other stunts eventually propelled him into the Salt Lake City mayor's office, but his new job didn't stop him from racing. In 1940, the "racing mayor" broke 21 records and got up to 189 miles per hour on one lap of a 24-hour run. By his 1950 Labor Day race, which ended up being his last, he had held and shattered more records than any other person in land speed racing. His last car—which he called Mormon Meteor III—was eventually refurbished by his son Marvin, and was displayed for years in the Utah State Capitol building.
Image: Ab Jenkins and the "Mormon Meteor". Ab Jenkins and his racecar the "Mormon Meteor" on the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 11, 1950. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
See Ab Jenkins and Wendell J. Ashton, The Salt of the Earth (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1939). Also see Ashton’s entry on Jenkins in the online Utah History Encyclopedia. An article on Jenkins published in Barracuda Magazine can be found at www.barracudamagazine.com/ab-jenkins.html.