Racing fans, history buffs pay homage to 'Mormon Meteor'

By Travis Poppleton

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Aug. 25 2011 4:23 p.m. MDT

Family, politicians and friends celebrate Ab Jenkins Day with the famous Mormon Meteor III car outside Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011. Eighty Ford GTE cars were on display also.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Rising temperatures weren't enough to keep racing fans and history buffs from gathering outside the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Wednesday afternoon to help celebrate the life of David Abbot "Ab" Jenkins, world-renowned race car driver and former Salt Lake City mayor.

The event coincided with the premiere of "Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt," a documentary of Jenkins' racing achievements.

"This is a fun day for Salt Lake," Mayor Ralph Becker told the Deseret News. "This is a day we're celebrating Ab Jenkins and the Jenkins family and the Price family."

Jenkins was responsible for setting 100 speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the early 1900s, and today some of those records still stand. In honor of his life and influence in Utah history, current and former Salt Lake City mayors gathered to declare Aug. 24 "Ab Jenkins Day."

"This day represents a little bit about film, a little bit about history and a little bit about cars," said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon. "Everything somebody like me loves to be involved with, and I think a lot of people in the Salt Lake community as well."

John Price, executive producer of the film and now owner of the Meteor, is a former U.S. ambassador.

Cars were definitely being celebrated, as Greg Miller's Ford GT Club lined the street with 40 beautifully detailed Ford GTs. Miller is the CEO of the Larry H. Miller Companies.

In the center of the street, Jenkins' most famous car — the Mormon Meteor III — was uncovered for the first time in more than 15 years, much to the delight of the gathered crowd.

Ab Jenkins II, grandson of the famous record holder, explained that as a youth, he wasn't fully aware of what the Mormon Meteor meant to people. "Growing up with the history, I think to a certain degree we took it for granted. But as I got older and recognized the accomplishments, it was nice to have that recognized by the city and even by the state."

After the restored racer was unveiled, invited guests entered the theater for the screening of "Boys of Bonneville." Price introduced the movie.

Respectfully crafted and surprisingly touching, the film details Jenkins' racing and political accomplishments.

Those already familiar with the history will be delighted to see the amount of effort taken by filmmaker Curt Wallin and his team to collect, restore and compose the archived footage and photographs into a single production.

Those unfamiliar with the Meteor's history will be surprised by the ambition and significance of a man they've never heard of and the efforts later taken to restore his legacy.

Narrated by actor Patrick Dempsey, "Boys of Bonneville" follows a traditional documentary timeline of interviews, legacy photographs and footage, and ends with a familiar where-is-this-story-now conclusion. The established narrative device works well with its subject and the story is better off for Wallin's constraint in technique.

Following the film, Ab Jenkins' grandchildren took the stage to present Price with a plaque honoring his efforts and welcomed him in as an honorary member of the Jenkins family. The obviously touched Price thanked the family members and embraced them.

The film opens today for a two-week run in Megaplex theaters across the state and is also available now on DVD. It does contain brief clips of early racers crashing and being thrown from vehicles, which might be shocking to younger viewers.

The Mormon Meteor III will be on display at Price's Museum of Speed until June 2012. The vehicle will later be part of a larger exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah.

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