Ab & Marvin Jenkins: The Studebaker Connection and the Mormon Meteors by Gordon Eliot White

Ab & Marvin Jenkins: The Studebaker Connection and the Mormon Meteors by Gordon Eliot White
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Feb 15, 2008
Book Review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

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Ab & Marvin Jenkins: The Studebaker Connection and the Mormon Meteors, by Gordon Eliot White, is a paperback book on the history of American endurance racer, Ab Jenkins and his son Marvin. The book is published by Iconografix, Box 446, Hudson, Wisconsin 54016 and the ISBN# is 13-978-1-58388-173-6. Ab & Marvin Jenkins is 8 ½ by 11 inches in size, with no dust cover jacket and the pages are glued to the spine of the book. The cover graphics are impressive and the book can easily meet the criteria of being a nice looking coffee table book or a serious work of historical research into an American racing family that has long been overlooked. Ab & Marvin Jenkins has a table of contents, acknowledgments, introduction, 11 chapters, a four page appendix of records set by the Jenkins,’ a one page epilogue, a two page index and the length of the book is 160 pages. There are two color and 168 black and white photographs throughout the book. In addition, the author has included an additional 41 assorted pictorials, including diagrams, maps, drawings and ads. In the acknowledgments, White mentions that he has known the Jenkins and that he had been a correspondent for the Salt Lake City Deseret News for over three decades. Gordon Eliot White is a serious historian, researcher and writer. His method is to concentrate on the written records and personal interviews and to keep any biases in check. The photographs are almost all in black and white, but they are of a high quality and most of them I have not seen before. The text is about 40% of the work, but is written in a clear, concise and interesting manner. White does not dawdle, but moves the story along and I never found my interest wane. The index is a full two pages and appears to be very thorough. Ab & Marvin Jenkins lacks a bibliography, but White covers this in his acknowledgments.

Ab Jenkins and his son Marvin occupy a place in American racing that is truly pivotal. There are a few people who deserve a chapter in the ‘great story never written’ on American motorsports racing, and Ab Jenkins is one of them. Bill France in stock car racing, Wally Parks in drag racing, William K. Vanderbilt in early road course racing, the Unser, Foyt and Andretti family in open wheel racing have all earned a place in history. The story of Ab and Marvin Jenkins is often lost among the welter of names that have made a huge impact. Many people even forget that Henry Ford set a land speed record, on ice no less. Ab Jenkins the best ever endurance racer in our time, and this isn’t something that I learned from White. Danny Oakes and Johnny Klann told me that. Ak Miller, who garnered recognition in many different automotive racing styles, said the same thing. Few people ever got in a racecar and drove it hour after hour, day after day as consistently as Ab Jenkins did. Car manufacturers paid famous race car drivers to test the endurance of their cars for their ad campaigns and usually 3 or 4 drivers would take six hour shifts. Ab had a back-up driver and sometimes he let them in the car, but not for very long. Those endurance records that Jenkins set have remained up there on a pedestal, because frankly, there aren’t many people who want to go 24, 48 and 72 hours straight in a racecar. That kind of racing seems to have died out as the Great Depression waned. If this is all that the Jenkins family is known for, it would be enough. But it isn’t, of course, for a larger feat was in advertising to the world one of the greatest racing venues in the world, the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The Europeans had traded the land speed record from one country to another until technology and speeds advanced beyond the sites they commonly used. For a time the Americans entered the land speed race on the hard-packed sands of Daytona Beach, in Florida. Jenkins, who knew that the Great Utah Salt Lake salt flats were a superior racing surface, labored long and hard to convince the Europeans land speed giants to come to America and use the Bonneville salt flats. There are salt beds throughout the world. Bolivia has a salt lake playa of immense size. Australia has Lake Gairdner. At the time the Utah salt flats seemed just as remote and unapproachable as any other place on earth. But Utah had Ab Jenkins and the railroad, one to herald the greatest racing surface in the world and the other to supply the little town of Wendover with the necessities of life. Roads would follow, then Sir Malcolm Campbell would accept Ab’s offer and the rest is history. Other Europeans would follow, then in 1949, a group of Southern California hot rodders would ‘borrow the salt for a week,’ and do so well that more records have been set there than any other place on earth, except for El Mirage. Ab Jenkins is the spiritual father of American land speed racing. His pursuits were more concerned with his Mormon Meteor race cars, his endurance racing and his promotion of the salt flats as a way to promote Utah, the state that he loved. He and his son, deserve their place in history as one of the cornerstones of American racing giants. Other books by White include; Lost Race Tracks, Kurtis-Kraft, The Marvelous Mechanical Designs of Harry A. Miller, and Indianapolis Racing Cars of Frank Kurtis 1941-1963. Look for these and Ab & Marvin Jenkins in book stores or contact the author at [email protected].

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].

Amazon.com has new copies for $25.04 and also some used.