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August 9, 2021

Longtime broadcaster Bob Jenkins, an on-air fixture in Indy and NASCAR, dies at 73

Bob Jenkins, an esteemed motorsports broadcaster at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway who also anchored NASCAR coverage for ABC Sports and ESPN for nearly two decades, died Monday. He was 73.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway confirmed Jenkins’ passing. Jenkins had revealed in February that he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for brain cancer. He had survived a bout with colon cancer in 1983.

“Bob Jenkins lent his iconic voice to so many memorable NASCAR moments, telling the story of our sport to millions of fans for years,” NASCAR said in an official statement. “Though known for his immense talent as a broadcaster, Bob’s passion for motorsports truly defined what it meant to be a racer. The motorsports industry lost a broadcasting legend and a friend with Bob’s passing. NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to Bob’s friends and family.”

RELATED: A personal remembrance of broadcaster Bob Jenkins

Jenkins was a popular broadcaster in both television and radio at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Hoosier native served in multiple roles on the track’s airwaves — on the lead play-by-play call and as a turn reporter, guest analyst and later its public-address announcer. He was inducted into the IMS Hall of Fame in 2019.

“Bob Jenkins, over the years, he was just a figure that was always there and very much front and center in Indianapolis,” racing legend Mario Andretti told the Indianapolis Star, which first reported Jenkins’ passing. “His voice is just absolutely unique. I would always know who was talking. He was just one of those that developed his career alongside ours, you know. He was one of us in every way.”

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It was with ESPN and later ABC Sports that Jenkins became a familiar voice in stock-car racing as NASCAR’s reach expanded to a national level through the 1980s and ’90s. Jenkins’ motorsports tenure with the network began in 1981, first paired with colleague Larry Nuber and later leading a formidable three-man booth with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons.

“He certainly was very good at leading Benny and I where we needed to go and always making us look good,” Jarrett said in 2012, “and that’s something I’ve always appreciated.”

Jenkins was the lead on-air voice for many memorable races, from Al Unser Jr.’s victory in the closest Indy 500 finish in 1992, Alan Kulwicki’s stirring march to the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Atlanta that same year, to Jeff Gordon’s win in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at IMS in 1994.

Jenkins attended nearly every Indy 500 at the Speedway from 1960 on, missing with only rare exception. His early years in local radio news eventually led him to the IMS Radio Network in 1979, the same year that ESPN launched. Jenkins was later part of the cable network’s earliest motorsports broadcasts, which included NASCAR, IMSA, IndyCar, USAC and other racing series.

After ESPN/ABC’s first run as a NASCAR broadcast partner ended in 2000, Jenkins remained involved with IndyCar, later signing as the play-by-play voice for the Versus network, which would eventually become NBCSN. Jenkins retired from that full-time role in 2012 to care for his wife, Pam, who died of brain cancer later that year.

Jenkins shared his own diagnosis in an emotional interview with Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles in February, noting in the track’s “Behind The Bricks” video series that he would scale back his broadcasting duties at the track. He said had awoken Christmas night in 2020 with a severe headache; tests initially showed a stroke, but a later diagnosis revealed two malignant tumors.

Jenkins welled up during his recounting of his health challenges, saying that he felt the first people he should tell would be his family and the community of race fans, who he said he had leaned on for their prayers and support.

“You know what I tell people often when they ask me how this whole thing of my career came together? I tell them, you know, I don’t know, because I have only been a race fan who got lucky, and I think that’s what I will have on my tombstone because it’s true,” Jenkins said. “I was a race fan for many, many years before my career came about, but I have the same passion for auto racing and especially the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that I had when I was growing up. It’s always a thrill to come to this place, and to visit the Museum and especially see the activity on the race track.”