In this undated photo, Bob Jenkins (right) stands with longtime ESPN broadcast partner, Larry Nuber, in 1980 before the pair announces a race. (Photo courtesy of bobjenkinsracing.com)
Throughout my young journalism career, I’ve had the chance to meet several legends in this field. One such legend is the reason I became a journalist: longtime motorsports broadcaster Bob Jenkins.
While calling the final practice for the last weekend’s Indy 500 for the NBC Sports Network, Jenkins announced he is retiring from the booth after this season’s last IZOD IndyCar Series race in October. That is only fitting because the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to some of his greatest calls both on radio and television.
Jenkins will go down as one of the most versatile motorsport voices of this generation. He was a broadcaster that called many races in a way that made him one of the best of all time. Back in 1979, Jenkins was one of the first broadcasters hired for a new network that was starting that year. You might have heard of it, ESPN.
He called every form of motorsports for the total sports network, including IndyCar and sports car racing, and he teamed up with two former Winston Cup champions, Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons, to form one of the greatest three-man booths in auto racing history to call NASCAR races.
He has also spent time working for SPEED, calling open-wheel races for Spike TV, and he has also been a longtime employee of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. Currently, he is the lead announcer for the IZOD IndyCar Series on the NBC Sports.
He let the actions on the track speak for themselves and did not try to become the story.
I once read that Jenkins style was playing the “traffic cop” role in the booth, letting his expert analysis do most of the talking.
Like the great broadcasters in all sports, Jenkins was a calming voice when something bad happened on the track such as a major crash, but he also got very emotional when something spectacular took place like two cars racing neck-and-neck to the checkered flag.
As a young boy growing up, auto racing was one of the first sports I fell in love with, and Jenkins was the main reason why.
I thought I would never get the chance to thank him.
I did get that chance in college.
You see, back a few years ago, while writing for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University, the nice people at the Nashville Superspeedway, and thanks to additional help from classic sports reporter Larry Woody, who now writes a weekly column for The Murfreesboro Post, I was able to cover races in the infield media center.
During that time, I had the great chance to cover some of the best racers in the world and meet some major network television and radio broadcasters who covered these drivers on a regular basis.
It was during one of those race weekends that Jenkins was in town as part of the ESPN broadcast crew. I figured he was so busy preparing for the main race that I would never get the chance to meet him. However, during a slow period when the cars were not on the track, a race official who was in the media center told me I could meet him.
So, we waited until Jenkins came back into the media center, and he introduced me to him. We shook hands, and we talked for a couple of minutes about the upcoming race. Jenkins was very cool and took the time to talk to me.
It was difficult for me not to get too emotional, but we both had jobs to do that weekend. Jenkins had a much more important job. Even though I didn’t ask for an autograph, which would have broken journalism ethics, I still remember meeting and speaking with him just like it was yesterday.
Jenkins said he would still do some public address work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
When the checkered flag files on that October night, a great broadcasting legend will exit the stage, leaving many racing fans just like me a little sad to see the Jenkins era end.
Thanks for the memories.
Thank you for being such a positive influence in my life.