Longtime racing announcer Bob Jenkins, a former radio voice of the Indianapolis 500 whose career spanned more than five decades on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, died Monday at the age of 73, Indianapolis Motor Speedway said in a statement.
Jenkins revealed in February that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer and planned to scale back his work at the speedway as he underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
Jenkins, who survived colon cancer in the 1980s, retired from broadcasting at the end of the 2012 IndyCar season to care for his wife, Pam, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer. He returned to the television booth briefly in 2013 after she died, and had most recently worked as one of the speedway’s primary public address announcers.
Jenkins joined the IMS Radio Network in 1979 and quickly became popular with his booming, baritone voice and easygoing style.
“I grew up a fan of all racing, but especially the Indy 500. As a kid and young adult, to keep up with the sport I had to read newspaper articles and racing magazines. And then came Bob Jenkins,” said J. Douglas Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “His familiar IMS Radio Network voice transitioned to the familiar TV screen on shows like ‘SpeedWeek’ and race broadcasts, and he led the transformation of the way race fans enjoyed the sport, which fueled amazing growth in auto racing.
“But through all the successes, Bob 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!”
Jenkins also called IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One races for other networks including ABC, ESPN, NBC Sports Network and its predecessor Versus. He was a central figure in ESPN’s racing coverage, anchoring “NASCAR on ESPN” from 1979 to 2000.
“Bob was a tremendous contributor to the establishment of ESPN’s credibility in our early days, and he led our motorsports coverage with class, professionalism and enthusiasm for many years,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN Executive Vice President, Event and Studio Production & Executive Editor.
Jenkins also appeared in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and provided the voice for several video games, including EA Sports’ popular “NASCAR.”
But he might have been best known around Indianapolis as the radio voice of the 500 from 1990-98, a tenure that included his call of Al Unser Jr.’s first 500 victory in 1992 when he barely beat 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 declared.
The victory margin — 0.043 seconds — remains the closest finish in the race’s 104-year history.
“To an entire generation, the sound of Bob’s voice simply meant it was time to go racing,” said Roger Penske, owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “That legendary voice became the soundtrack for the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We will miss Bob’s kindness, his professionalism and his unique ability to bring us all closer to the track with his stories and insights.”
Jenkins grew up in rural Indiana and attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1960. Since then, he said he missed only two races — 1961, when he couldn’t get anyone to take him, and 1965, when he was on a senior trip.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.