Bob Jenkins, 73 a former “Voice of the 500” has lost his fight with cancer. Inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 2019, Jenkins was one of only four people to serve as television play-by-play announcer during ABC’s 54-year broadcast history of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.
The native of Liberty, Indiana was an approachable media member, known for his easy-going ways and, more than anything else, his respect for the 500 and INDYCAR. He anchored NTT IndyCar Series races on television and frequently joined the public address system at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jenkins was also a frequent master of ceremonies for many Indy 500 functions, including the Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration.
Jenkins’ voice will always be associated with the Indy 500 and, in particular his call of the 1992 race a thrilling battle 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, his baritone voice climbing a few octaves. Unser Jr.’s .043-second margin of victory remains the closest finish in the 500’s 105-year history.
Bob Jenkins missed only two races since his first 500 in 1960: in 1961 he couldn’t find anyone to take him and in 1965 he was on a trip as a high school senior. Even while fighting his illness, Jenkins came to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May to receive the Robin Miller Award, making a brief, poignant acceptance speech. At that time, he was warmly greeted by his exceptionally large group of friends and admirers from both the racing community and those of us in the media who have come to know and respect the man and his work.
A graduate of Indiana University Jenkins turned a love of music into a radio gig, first as a news reporter at stations in Fort Wayne and Valparaiso. Later he worked at Indianapolis station WIRE as co-anchor of a nationally syndicated farm news show, “AgDay.” He landed his first motorsports job in 1979, thanks to Paul Page, another renown “Voice of the 500.” He became the backstretch announcer on the IMS Radio Network and later, with Page’s assistance, started the USAC Radio Network.
Jenkins was one of ESPN’s first on-air employees when it launched in 1979 and was, for more than 20 years, one of the lead voices of NASCAR races for ESPN and, on occasion for ABC, including the first seven Brickyard 400 races at IMS. His pairing with former NASCAR drivers Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons led them to become one of the most popular trios in motorsports broadcasting history.
First introduced to Indiana dirt-track races by his father, Bob Jenkins anchored for the Indianapolis-based company that produced ESPN’s popular “Thunder” series broadcasts of USAC Sprint Car and Midget series races; he was the host of “SpeedWeek” on ESPN.
Jenkins’ first bout with cancer came in the 1980s when he successfully battled colon cancer. He retired from television in 2012 to care for his wife, Pam, who had her own cancer battles, dying that October. This past February, Bob Jenkins revealed that, following a severe headache on Christmas night, he had been diagnosed with two malignant tumors behind his right temple. Cancer may have taken Jenkins from the motorsports he loved, but his voice will live on in the recordings of his broadcasts.