Ken Jenkins, Race Car Builder


Ken Jenkins, Los Banos, Calif., died May 11 after a long illness. He was 65.

He was born Sept. 30, 1947 in Liberal, Kan., and spent much of his younger years near Guymon, Okla. He entered the U.S. military in 1967 where he served in Vietnam as an aircraft mechanic. He married wife Sunny Ely on April 8, 1967.

Ken began building custom vans, and also built and raced a stock car in the Oklahoma area until 1977 when he entered the field of sprint car racing. It was there that Ken had his greatest success, creating a number of winning chassis and suspension designs over the next 25 years. He joined Nance Performance in 1979, and in 1982 relocated to Tennessee with Gambler Chassis.

In 1985, Ken relocated the former Stanton chassis manufacturing operation to Bondurant, Iowa, and Challenger Chassis was born. He later developed the Magnum chassis, and in 1988 joined Maxim Chassis and relocated to Springfield, Ill. In 1992 he launched Jenkins Motorsports, building and servicing sprint car chassis throughout the U.S. In 1997 he created the Intruder Chassis, a car he felt was the fastest of his long career. He later worked for Carrera Racing Shocks and Panzer Motorcycles.

During his tenure in sprint car racing, nearly every major national championship was won with a design in which Ken was involved. The list of drivers who won in cars of his design include virtually every top racer over the past 30 years.

In 2002 Ken was diagnosed with lung cancer, and for the next 11 years devoted himself to fighting the dreaded disease.

Ken is survived by his wife Sunny, with whom he shared 46 years of happiness; daughter Jami Jenkins of Tulsa, Okla; granddaughter Mackenzie Allen of Mt. Vernon, Ill.; parents Roy and Dessie Jenkins of Liberal, Kans., and Audrey Ely, Canon City, Colo.; sister Teresa Stevens, Liberal, Kans.; brothers Ron Jenkins of Wichita, Kans. and James Jenkins, Mannford, Okla. Ken was preceded in death by son K. Scott Jenkins.

Military rites will take place in Los Banos at a later date, as well as a memorial service in Kansas.