Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ab Jenkins

The Petty/Andretti Indy 500 announcement and my reading of Brock Yates' Umbrella Mike book made me recall a treasured memento I had stored away in our fireproof strong box. In 1991, my Uncle Max sent me a picture card Ab Jenkins gave him in 1938 at Indianapolis along with a hand-written note about his memories of that month of May. Uncle Max passed away only a couple of years later, and I feel fortunate to be able to still have this memory of him.

In case you can't read the letter, here's the text of it.
April 10, 1991 - You may have forgotten that I promised to give you the card Ab gave me in Indianapolis in May 1938. Well, here it is. I worked in a Bar-B-Que stand and fed many of the racers and their associates in the weeks before the race. Three of them were the winner that year, Floyd Roberts, his car owner Lou [Moore] and his mechanic Lou Webb. Those three had to scratch for living money before that race but the owner had some top finishes, including at least one winner, in subsequent years. Floyd was not so lucky – he was killed in the 1939 race. Sorry it took so long to keep my promises. Love & best wishes to you both. Uncle Max
At the time he sent me the letter and picture, I was certainly surprised. Even at his old age, I think his memory was better than mine in my 20s at the time. His letter references a promise he made to get this card to me and apologizes for not having sent it earlier. Yet, I don't recall when he even promised to send it to me! It may have been at my cousin's wedding. Who knows.

Because I was grateful to have the picture and the note and because his memory was so sharp, I didn't bother to do any fact checking to see if he was right. Plus, the internet wasn't exactly up and running full speed back in 1991.

But in looking at the contents of his letter and doing some research, he was dead on with all his details. Ab Jenkins was indeed a world-speed setter in his day. I found a couple of articles about his Bonneville speed runs in his Mormon Meteor.
I also found a couple of on-line pictures - one of which seems to be the same car as in the 1938 photo card Uncle Max sent me.

And Leno with a restored, later-version Mormon Meteor.

As for Floyd Roberts, he won the 1938 Indy 500 and was then killed in the subsequent year's race - just as my uncle noted. Brock Yates included an account of Roberts' tragic accident in his book Umbrella Mike. Roberts had swerved to miss another spinning car. In doing so, his car flipped over the fence, landed upside down, and his neck was broken killing him instantly.

The only discrepancy I found in Uncle Max's memory of the 1938 race was his reference to Lou Webb as the mechanic. From what I can tell, Lou Moore was the car owner as well as the chief mechanic.

Nonetheless, I'm glad I remembered I had this piece of history and actually knew where I had it stored!


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