Bruce R. Jennings Sr., 70, legendary sports-car racer

February 01, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

During the week, Bruce R. Jennings Sr. played the role of conservative insurance broker. But on weekends, he climbed behind the steering wheel of his Porsche Carrera Speedster and became a fearless race car driver known as "King Carrera."

Mr. Jennings, who had suffered from emphysema in recent years, ended his life Tuesday. The Parkton resident was 70. A legend in racing circles around the world, he died nearly unknown in the Baltimore area.

Regarded as one of the most talented endurance racers from the golden age of amateur sports-car racing, the mid-1950s through the 1960s, he amassed 300 trophies during his 35-year career -- 216 wins and 104 second-place finishes.

He raced against such legends as A. J. Foyt, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, Phil Hill, Walt Hansgen and Roger Penske and on such hallowed tracks as Sebring, Watkins Glen, Les Mans and Daytona.

In 1995, Porsche Panorama magazine called him: "A brilliant driver with talent enough to be successful in a wide range of cars, Jennings' fame came because of his skill with the Porsche Carrera Speedster and in time he came to be known as 'King Carrera.' "

His interest in racing was aroused in 1957 when a racer named Duncan Black took him to the Sports Car Club of America races at Andrews Air Force Base and he fell in love with a Porsche 1500 Normal Coupe.

His first race was in 1956, and he frequently finished first at Marlboro Raceway in Maryland through the early to mid-1960s.

Racing at 100 mph in 1960 at Watkins Glen, Mr. Jenning's car was hit and he went 30 feet into the air, flipping four times. Knocked unconscious, he awoke to the sound of a priest intoning the sacrament of Last Rites.

He raced the next week with a severely sprained back.

In 1977, he said of the thrill of racing: "It's a feeling of complete fulfillment. It can give you more, or take away more, than any other sport."

In 1960, 1961 and 1964, he was United States champion in the C-Production Class on the Sports Car Club of America circuit.

"Bruce always said that he was not a great driver but a careful one, who tried to avoid making mistakes," said racing fan and Porsche historian Lee Raskin.

Heinz W. Bade, mechanic to famed British racer Stirling Moss and also Mr. Jenning's mentor and mechanic said: "He was determined to conquer the best and in doing so became one of the best But the most outstanding thing about him was that he was fast but careful and never abused the equipment like some other drivers."

Mr. Jennings retired from racing about eight years ago and frequently made guest appearances at vintage races.

Dave Coleman, 49, of Summit Park, W.Va., purchased from Mr. Jennings his beloved 1959 ruby red Carrera Speedster with the silver brow.

"I'm driving it to his funeral tomorrow," Mr. Coleman said yesterday. "He overcame his fear on the track through his skill. He was a very strong-willed man who was always in the driver's seat of his own life."

Mr. Jennings was born in Baltimore and raised in Homeland, and graduated from McDonogh School in 1944. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. In 1946, he joined his brother and father in the Mutual Insurance Agency Inc., which his father had established in 1922. He was semiretired at his death.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

He is survived by a son, Bruce R. Jennings Jr. of Parkton; a brother, Chester Jennings Jr. of Baltimore; and a sister, Eleanor Hearn of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 2/01/97

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