Long-time Indy 500 and NASCAR radio and TV broadcaster Bob Jenkins died on Monday after a fight with brain cancer. He was 73.
The Indiana native got into motorsport broadcasting more or less by accident – he was reporting on farming stories at WIRE when he was ushered into the IMS radio network as a backstretch announcer in 1979 by friend and fellow radio journalist Paul Page. But that unlikely beginning marked the start of relationship between Jenkins and the Speedway’s fans that spanned five decades, including his tenure as IMS Radio’s chief announcer from 1990 through 1998, and then on ABC from 1999 through 2003.
Jenkins was also one of the first on-air employees of ESPN when it launched in 1979, and spent more than 20 years as the lead commentator for the network’s NASCAR races alongside Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons – worried, he later told Robin Miller, that someone in the stock car world would catch onto the fact that his heart really belonged to open-wheelers. He attended his first 500 in 1961, and only missed two in the decades that followed.
Along with his NASCAR and IMS work, Jenkins anchored ESPN’s ‘Thunder’ series broadcasts of USAC Sprint Car and Midget races, and was the host of ‘SpeedWeek’ on ESPN. He also lent his distinctive voice to several motorsport-related video games and films, including Days of Thunder and Talladega Nights.
Jenkins survived a brush with colon cancer in the 1980s, and stepped back from television in 2012 to take care of his wife Pam, was also fighting cancer and died later that year. He revealed that two new malignant tumors had been discovered behind his right temple in February of this year.
Despite being in the advanced stages of his illness, Jenkins appeared at the Indy 500 in May to be presented with the Robin Miller Award in front of his friends and peers. He was inducted into the IMS Hall of Fame in 2019.