Broadcaster Jenkins Passes Away

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2021

Longtime racing broadcaster Bob Jenkins.


Retired radio/television broadcaster Bob Jenkins, a former “Voice of the 500” who was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2019, died Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, after a long fight with brain cancer. The Indiana native was 73-years-old.

Jenkins was a colon cancer survivor in the 1980s who retired from television in 2012 to care for his wife, Pam, as she dealt with cancer. Pam Jenkins died in October of that year. In February 2021, Jenkins revealed that he had been diagnosed with two malignant tumors behind his right temple following a severe headache he experienced on Christmas night.

Jenkins last visited IMS’ Fourth Floor DEX Imaging Media Center prior to the annual Carb Day practice on Friday, May 28. Seated in a wheelchair and visibly weak, Jenkins was presented the Robin Miller Award from the former Indianapolis Star motorsports beat writer.

Miller introduced his longtime friend and read the inscription of a plaque “Honoring an unheralded individual who has dedicated a significant portion of their life to IndyCar racing while bringing unbridled passion and unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport.”

Jenkins struggled to deliver a brief acceptance speech before an audience that included open-wheel icon Mario Andretti, IMS owner Roger Penske and former ESPN colleague Dr. Jerry Punch, as well as media covering the 105th Indy 500, family and friends. Jenkins began his remarks by noting that he has had trouble organizing his thoughts and with speaking.

“I am a race fan who got lucky,” Jenkins said softly into a microphone. “I got lucky because there were jobs in radio and TV available, and I took them. Because of public exposure, people think it’s a big deal… I’m just a race fan, and I always will be.”

The Richmond, Ind., native was heard globally over five decades on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network in several capacities, including chief announcer from 1990 through 1998. Jenkins was one of only four people to serve as television play-by-play announcer during ABC’s 54-year history of broadcasting the Indianapolis 500.

With an easygoing style that mirrored his personality, Jenkins anchored NTT IndyCar Series races on television and was a frequent contributor to the public address system at IMS. Jenkins also was a frequent master of ceremonies at 500-related functions, including the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration.

In one form or another, Jenkins was connected to IMS for more than 40 years. His most recognized race call was the record-setting finish of the 1992 Indy 500 between Al Unser Jr. and Scott Goodyear.

“The checkered flag is out, Goodyear makes a move…Little Al wins by just a few tenths of a second, perhaps the closest finish in the history of the Indianapolis 500!” Jenkins said on radio as his baritone voice climbed a few octaves.

The victory margin of 0.043-seconds remains the closest finish in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Jenkins attended his first Indy 500 in 1960 and said he had only missed two races since _ in 1961 when he couldn’t get anyone to take him, and in 1965 when he was on a trip as a high school senior.

A 1969 graduate of Indiana University, Jenkins turned his love of music into a job in radio, first as a news reporter at stations in Fort Wayne and Valparaiso and then at WIRE in Indianapolis as co-anchor of a nationally syndicated farm news show “AgDay.”

Jenkins, who attended Indiana dirt-track races with his father, landed his first position in motorsports in 1979 as the backstretch announcer on the IMS Radio Network. His friend Paul Page, a member of that broadcast team and an employee at rival WIBC, helped him get that job. Page later helped Jenkins get his start with the USAC Radio Network.

Jenkins was one of the first on-air employees of ESPN’s fledgling 24-hour, all-sports cable TV network when it launched in 1979. For more than 20 years, he was the lead voice of NASCAR races for ESPN and occasionally ABC, including the first seven NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400s at IMS beginning in August 1994. His pairing with former stock car drivers Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons evolved into one of the most popular trios in motorsports broadcasting history.

If there was a form of motorsports on U.S. television, Jenkins likely was involved with it at some point in his career.

Along with his NASCAR and IMS work, Jenkins anchored for the Indianapolis-based company that produced ESPN’s popular “Thunder” series broadcasts of USAC Sprint Car and Midget series races. He also served as host of the half-hour “SpeedWeek” news program on ESPN. Jenkins later worked for the former Velocity motorsports cable network. 

Jenkins’ voice was featured in several motorsports video games and films, including the NASCAR-centric “Days of Thunder” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

| , RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 11 2021
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