John Zenda (John Louis Zendejas Sr.)
BiographyDunsmuir, California, USA
John Louis Zendejas Sr. was born in Dunsmuir California in 1944. Little is known about John's father's side of the family, but on his mothers side he was equal parts German and English. His Grandfather (Schroll) was a second generation German immigrant. His Grandmother (James) extended from a long line of American heritage. The James family is best known for the old west outlaw Jesse James. Yes, John and Jesse were related. His mother and step father went on to have 3 other children (Anita, Maria, Michael). John's early years were spent helping the family and going to school. Read more... very modestly and to help bring in more money for the family John dropped out of High school prematurely, working with his step father as a day-laborer. At age 18 John joined the Air Force. He served 3 years before being discharged. After the Air Force he moved back to Northern California and became a police officer in Santa Maria. Police work wasn't quite what he was looking for so he quit after just one year. Next began his inevitable turn to show business. John joined a team of traveling professional wrestlers, becoming one of the original pioneers of the sport. He had wrestling experience in high school and was eager to use his size and strength to his advantage. Wearing a cape and mask he performed WWF type moves for captive audiences, well before the WWF hay-day. Now married, John began to realize that pro wrestling wasn't going to financially support a family. So, he got in touch with some old friends who were in the race car industry and somehow convinced them that he should drive dragsters for them. At that time, anyone who was crazy enough to want to get into a race car would probably be given a shot. So drive he did! After a good stint at driving his wife convinced him that with a baby on the way it was just too dangerous to continue. So he settled for managing the Santa Maria race track instead. It was during this time that John got the crazy idea to use a sticky liquid spray on the track that would give the race car tires better traction. The spray was called VHT. It quickly caught on and before long all the race tracks were using VHT. The sticky compound is still used to this day and is a big part of how tremendous speeds are achieved by modern race cars. It was also during this time that John met an individual that wanted to make a movie about drag racing. This time John convinced the director that he'd be perfect for the role. The film was called Burnout. Although the film was a flop John learned that he really liked acting. After attending a prestigious acting school in LA and obtaining an agent John went for broke and began auditioning for TV roles, under the abbreviated name Zenda. Before long his commitments paid off and he started landing roles on shows such as Batlestar Galactica, Hawaii Five-O, The Rockford Files, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Starsky and Hutch, etc. In 1983 he landed a role on a movie called Bad Boys starring Sean Penn. On the set he and Penn hit it off. They became friends and co-workers going on to do other films together, such as Colors. Penn even employed John as his personal body guard for a period of time. John's acting career included other classic roles in films such as Holloween 2 and Backtrack, though his television roles are what comprised the majority of his work. During this time John also pursued another one of his passions, body building. He began by performing in smaller shows and eventually worked his way up to bigger shows. When his trophy room was big enough, he quit. John went on to teach acting at the Orange County High School of the Arts, and even directed some large scale plays. Beginning in the early 90's John decided to re-focus on his love for racing. He went back to NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) and was put in charge of the new 'Historical Services' division. He became the curator of the Hot Rod Meseum located in Pomona, CA. In 1994 John contracted Pancreatic cancer which claimed his life at age 50. He was inducted into the NHRA hall of fame the following year for his contributions to the development of motor sports.