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Bob Jenkins, Voice of the Indy 500, dies at 73

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Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Bob Jenkins, a legend in the motorsports world for his announcing prowess on radio and television, has died after an eight-month battle with brain cancer. He was 73 years old.

Jenkins is a name that defined racing broadcasts for many fans through the 1980s and 1990s in both IndyCar and NASCAR. Working for ABC and ESPN, the latter of whom hired him as one of its first employees in 1979, he served as the play-by-play announcer for the networks’ coverage of NASCAR alongside Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett, a trio that aligned with the nationwide boom in stock car racing’s popularity and thus served as the voices for many fans’ childhoods. Jenkins was also the announcer in the first EA Sports NASCAR games, including the acclaimed début installment NASCAR 98.

From 1990 to 1998, he was the lead announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, and also worked as lap-by-lap commentator for ABC on the Indianapolis 500. He first worked for the IMS Radio Network in 1979 as the backstretch announcer. Jenkins remained involved with the network for later editions of the famed race as public address announcer, a position he held until 2020.

He announced in February that he was diagnosed with tumours in his right temple. His wife Pam had died in 2012 of cancer herself. Although he did not return to the broadcast team for the 2021 Indy 500 in May, he visited the track and received the Robin Miller Award, given to a racing figure who “brings unbridled passion and unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport.”

“I grew up a fan of all racing – but especially the Indy 500. Just like Bob Jenkins,” began a letter penned by IMS track president J. Douglas Boles.

“Like most race fans growing up in the 70s and early 80s, to keep up with the sport I had to read newspaper articles and racing magazines – often delivering news well after an event. Until Bob Jenkins changed that. His familiar IMS radio network voice – that magically called the ending of the closet [sic] Indy 500 in history – transitioned to become a familiar TV face on shows like Speedweek and live race broadcasts from tracks around America. Bob helped lead the transformation that allowed race fans to enjoy the sport from their living rooms and it fueled amazing growth in auto racing.

“But through all the successes, Bob Jenkins never changed from what he truly was at heart. A race fan. His humility and ability to always remain a fan – even when he was the top racing commentator in the sport – is why race fans around the world loved watching or listening to a race called by Bob Jenkins. He was one of us!

“Thank you, Bob, for loving our sport so much – especially the Indy 500. Your hard work and passion to tell the stories of racing brought us all along with you! You will be missed – but the love of racing you’ve helped grow in so many will be a long and lasting legacy.”

Jenkins said upon receiving the Robin Miller Award, “I am a race fan who got lucky. 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.”

Bob Jenkins: 4 September 1947 – 9 August 2021

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History major at San Jose State University and lifelong motorsports fan who covers NASCAR and the Stadium Super Trucks.
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