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]."
When you're good, people notice....
When you're good, people notice. In 1971, companies were just beginning to see the benefits of sponsoring race cars. The image on the right was taken in 1971 for an ad supporting Champion spark plugs (left). In the ad, they asked if Jake used Champion spark plugs. His reply, "who told you that?"
In 1967, the team would leave the ranks of A/FX/Funny car racing to dominate the Super Stock class, and Jake was again entrusted to build the Hemi power for the team's cars. This would again put Jake in front of carbureted Hemi engines. This was the year that Ronnie's '67 Hemi Belvedere ran an 11.02 at the NHRA Springnationals. At the time, the National Record was an 11.63. Once again, Jake and his Hemi was able to power the Sox team on to ever-growing legendary status. It was becoming apparent that it didn't matter what kind of engine you put in front of Jake, he made it go fast. "Jake was a perfectionist," recalled the late Ronnie Sox at one time. "He was very laid back, very quiet. He would not put a motor together unless it was the absolute best he could do, and he would take his time." Coupled with Ronnie's driving, the meticulous preparation of a Jake King Hemi made the Sox & Martin team a dominant force for close to ten years.
In 1968, The Sox team received a new-for-'68 Hemi-powered Barracuda. These purpose-built machines gave the Sox & Martin team an entirely new platform to work with. At the first event of the 1968 year, the NHRA Springnationals at Englishtown, New Jersey, the team's Barracuda, with a Jake King-prepped Hemi, ran 10.30s right off the trailer. This was almost 6/10 second quicker than the national record in SS/B-class racing. During a later interview, when asked about his contributions to the dominant Sox & Martin team, Jake's reply was simply, "I think it's more up to Ronnie than anyone else-I couldn't do what he's doing." As a testament to his character, Jake would always offer his best for the team and recognize the accomplishments as a team.
In the early '70s, the Sox & Martin team even had a 440-powered Super Bird that was driven by Joe Fisher. In May 1970 at Suffolk County Raceway, the car ran in the low 11s. That's impressive when you consider that Jake had his hands tied fairly tight in regards to engine rules and allowances. For starters, he was not allowed to do any boring of the cylinders, only standard practice blueprinting was allowed. The engine had to remain the stock cubic inch displacement. He could, however, change the camshaft but was very limited in his choices at the time. In regards to carburetion, it had to be a factory available unit for the car. To say he was able to make power while his hands were tied is an understatement.
Usually, a weekend at the...
Usually, a weekend at the races was nothing but serious. In this rare family photo, Jake takes some time out to let loose. Our guess is that he was trying to figure out how to get a Hemi in his Radio Flyer.
Herb McCandless and Buddy Martin tell of a funny story about Jake that took place sometime around 1968, when Jake and Ronnie were travelling back east from a west coast event. It seems that Ronnie was driving the hauler, and Jake decided to get some sleep in the back of the truck. As soon as he got to the back of the truck, he removed his pants and shirt in order to get comfortable and was sleeping in just his underwear. The story goes that somewhere around New Mexico nature called on Ronnie, so he stopped along the side of the road. After a short time (it was really cold out), he walked around the truck to get back in and continue driving. As he was returning to the driver side of the truck, Jake awoke and decided that he too needed to step out of the truck. So, as Ronnie walked around the front of the truck, Jake got out of the passenger side of the truck as Ronnie got in and pulled away. There stood Jake along the side of the road half naked. A short time later, fellow racer Pee Wee Wallace picked Jake up and they caught up with Ronnie in the next town-about 25 miles down the road. Jake ducked down in the seat as Pee Wee pulled up beside Ronnie at a red light. He asked Ronnie, "Are you traveling alone?" Ronnie said, "No, Jake's in the back asleep." Pee Wee said, "I don't see him." That's when Ronnie turned around and saw that Jake was gone. After a short time, Jake sat up in the seat of Pee Wee's truck, and they all had a good laugh.
In 1970, when Pro-Stock class racing appeared, Jake had the opportunity to play with some new equipment for the Hemi engine. He was now allowed to use a tunnel-ram intake with two 4,500 series carburetors and any internal modification he could think of. Jake could build the engine he wanted, so long as it fit under a scooped hood.
The first Pro Stockers were initially built from stock-framed, factory-produced vehicles. There were no tube-chassis cars yet. The cars would run at a weight factor of 7 pounds per cubic inch. That put the Hemi-powered Mopar at just under 3,000 pounds of legal weight. In May of that year, Jake's Hemi powered Ronnie to the top of a 50-car field, winning the Super Stock Nationals with a 9.86 e.t.
After the first two seasons of Pro Stock competition in 1970 and 1971, there was no doubt that the factory hot rod category was a big hit with the fans. But NHRA officials thought that the overwhelming success of the Dodge and Plymouth entries, which had won 12 of the 15 races held during those two years, could hurt the class. Said then-NHRA Competition Director Steve Gibbs, "At the end of 1971, there was no doubt that Chrysler had achieved total domination of Pro Stock racing . . . " In other words, guys like Jake King built an engine that was too good and couldn't be beat. It was after the 1971 season that Jake's talents were officially recognized, when he received the Car Craft All-Star Racing Team Mechanic of the Year Award.
For the next few years, Jake continued to be the engine man behind the team until 1976. That's the year when someone broke into the Sox & Martin facilities, stole just about everything, and then set fire to the shop. After that, the members of the Sox & Martin team simply parted ways. A short time after the team disbanded, Jake rekindled his desire to open his own automotive repair shop. He opened his small, two-bay garage Gulf service center in Burlington, North Carolina, and spent the next several years happily running his garage and spending time with his family. It was in June 1995 that Jake was recognized and inducted into the Super Stock Magazine Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for us, on July 15 of that same year, the racing world lost a great wrench and person, as he passed while sleeping.
In October 2006, Jake's accomplishments were once again recognized when he was posthumously inducted as a member of the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame in Henderson, North Carolina. He was also named as the recipient of the Inaugural Ronnie Sox Memorial Award. Jake King was a perfectionist, a true legend in drag racing, and forever a friend to all he met.
After the Sox & Martin team...
After the Sox & Martin team parted ways, Jake rekindled his desire to start his own garage. This picture was taken just a short time before his passing.
Pictured is Jake's former...
Pictured is Jake's former office. It's no secret that the Sox & Martin shop worked on customers' cars, as evidenced by the Dodge in the background.