Jake King was a devout family man who frequently stayed out of the limelight and contributed more to the sport of racing than many people even know about. His career with the Sox & Martin racing team spanned more than a decade, and he can arguably be considered a major reason that the team was so dominant. His loves were his wife Virginia and their three children, and his favorite movie star was John Wayne. Together with his attention to details, and his devotion to the team, Jake King will forever be remembered as the source of Sox & Martin power.
(L to R) Buddy, Ronnie, and...
(L to R) Buddy, Ronnie, and Jake. In 1968, Jake's Hemi was responsible for powering the team to a Springnationals win at Englishtown, New Jersey. Of interesting note, 1968 was the only year the Springnationals was held at Englishtown. NHRA held the event there only until they found a permanent location.
Editor's Note: It was during a recent trip to Burlington, North Carolina, that I had the privilege to visit the home of Jake King's widow. The time that I spent at Mrs. Virginia King's home gave me a glimpse into the accomplishments-in regards to his family and his racing career-that inevitably led to the writing of this article. Once back at the office, I learned that finding information about Jake King was harder than I thought it would be. How could the man that powered what is possibly the most revered Pro-Stock racing team ever, be just a foot note in racing history? Personally, I think it's time we rectify that mistake.
John Preston King Jr. is not a name that many of you reading this might know. Regardless of that fact, he was possibly one of the best, early Super Stock and Pro-Stock mechanics that ever turned a wrench. In fact, many feel that without John, the history of Sox & Martin may not be quite as legendary as it is. You may be wondering who we're talking about. Well, you probably know him better as Jake King.
Jake grew up on a farm near the rural town of Burlington, North Carolina, and during his formative years, Jake's dad and uncle opened a small garage where in his words, taken from a Chrysler press release, "I just started messin' with cars." His first car was a '36 Ford, and he started to get into racing roughly around 1950.
The Sox & Martin team arrived...
The Sox & Martin team arrived at all events ready to race, but Jake could always be found working on some small detail to extract more power. In the book, The Sox & Martin Book of Drag Racing, he made the comment, " . . . most of the time we don't change [carburetor] jets. If it's running a little lean, we change to a colder plug; if it's rich, we run a hotter plug."
It was late in 1964 when Jake joined the team of Sox & Martin. In order to do so, he had to let go of the desire he had at the time to open his own automotive repair shop. Joining the team would make it impossible to run a garage of his own. He once said that at the time he made his decision, "repairing automobiles was getting so specialized anyway." So as he joins the team, the factory-sponsored deal with Mercury was signed for Ronnie to drive an A/FX Comet with a 427 in it. Jake was assigned the engine duties. By adding his talents to the 427, the Mercury was a screamer, and secured its biggest win of that year on Sunday at the 1964 Winternationals with an e.t. of 11.49, beating Dyno Don Nicholson in the final. That same year, the team was selected to be a part of the U.S. Racing Team organized by the NHRA.
Later, during the off season, the team switched to the platform they are best known for-Plymouth. For the 1965 season, Dodge and Plymouth introduced the new altered-wheelbase vehicles. That year, the radical entries were not allowed to compete in A/FX competition sanctioned by NHRA, but that didn't matter, the bulk of the team's racing attendance consisted of paid match-races. With Jake supplying the power, Ronnie Sox made history that spring by recording the first ever nine-second quarter-mile e.t. for a naturally aspirated door-slammer while racing at York U.S. 30 dragstrip. Jake's engine featured a new Hilborn fuel-injection system that was developed by Chrysler. In a later press release by Chrysler, Ronnie said, "I would put Jake up against anybody building a car . . . we wouldn't be in the running without [him]."