By "LandSpeed" Louise Ann Noeth
Without a doubt, David Abbot Jenkins (1883-1956) was the father of salt racing. It was his dogged determination that put the Bonneville Salt Flats on the international racing map, not to mention the hundreds of speed marks he set there proving the salt's worth.
Considering his limited resources, Jenkins enjoyed remarkable achievements. What distinguished him from his contemporaries was his precise use of local, "tribal" salt knowledge and unlimited guts. He was a deeply religious man who put his faith in God, and by God, he went far.
Born January 25, in Spanish Forks, Utah, Jenkins was often oxymoronically called "The World's Safest Speedster." As holder and breaker of more world records than any other driver, past or present, he was prouder of his million-mile "no accident" street driving record than all his speed and endurance records combined. His watchwords were simple: Safety First. Still good advice today.
His circle of friends was a testament to his congenial, outgoing nature. Harvey Firestone was an avid admirer. He became pals with Metropolitan Opera Singer Richard Bonelli when they were working as mechanics before Bonelli discovered he could sing. Bonelli would attend many of Jenkins speed runs and invariably, a song fest would ensue with everyone joining Bonelli in song. Imagine that, a salt opera.
Decades later, no one has toppled Jenkins exhausting, 48-hour endurance record. As for the marks that have fallen, it required the efforts of several drivers compared to Jenkins single-man driving shows.
One-time considered Utah's "one-man public relations machine," Jenkins racing fame 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.
Ab Jenkins was the certainly the first person catch "salt fever" and luckily he passed it on to succeeding generations with a need for speed. When Jenkins died at age 76, on August 9, 1956, the world was a little slower for him having done so.
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