Bankston was born April 15, 1939 in Beaumont. A graduate of French High School, he enlisted in the Army with best friend and fellow racer Jerry Aylor long before either began their driving careers. Aylor recounted how shortly after the two were honorably discharged, they were looking for work and low on money. They could only afford one hamburger, so they cut it in half and shared it. At the time of his death, John Bankston was a self-made multimillionaire.
John's racing career spanned through 5 decades, as he began racing in 1960. He has raced many types of cars, but was noted for his modified and sprint car racing. He began racing in the "Hot 6" division at Motorama Speedway, now Speedway 90, in 1971. A consistent winner ever since, his dare-devil, flat out style of driving kept fans on the edge of their seats and gave them something to talk about for weeks on end. Out of the driver's seat, his special charisma bridged the generation gap, often giving away his trophies to his young fans after winning races at the local tracks.
John Whittington Jr.called him the Dale Earnhardt of Southeast Texas.
In a season already marred by the tragic deaths of Dale Earnhardt and Charles Kettl, the local racing community took yet another blow when Bankston, racing in the All-Star Sprints at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, lost control of his car and crashed into a wall during the 17th lap of the 30-lap race.
His car flipped over and was hit by another car. He was taken to Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater, where he died early the next morning.