The first time I heard Bob Jenkins’ voice was during a broadcast of a NASCAR race on ESPN. Now, I am certain that many fans had heard him before on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, and others, as the lead voice for the Indianapolis 500.
Jenkins was, at the time I first heard him, a part of ESPN’s NASCAR Tonight, which began in 1979. My first impression was, “Who is this guy, and why is he part of a NASCAR broadcast, anyway?”
Of course, I did not know him, nor did I know his extensive background, which included his love of racing and his devotion to the Indianapolis 500. His talent and booming, yet authoritative, voice had made him a favorite with IndyCar fans long before he became a part of ESPN and NASCAR.
Fact is, by the time I first became acquainted with him, Jenkins would not only become a staple in NASCAR, but he would expand to other networks and racing venues, including Formula One.
But I believe it was his natural talent and his unpretentious delivery – and knowledge – that most impressed me, and I truly think that this was the same for so many NASCAR fans.
There was a time when ESPN’s presence in NASCAR was so prevalent that it permeated the media and fans of the sport. It was accepted as an appreciated authority.
I certainly accepted it as such. To me, how could it not be? I was appreciative of the announcers on other networks, to be sure.
But consider this, if you will: At the height of ESPN’s NASCAR presence, its lead announcers were Jenkins, Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons – with others such as Bill Weber and Dr. Jerry Punch on hand.
When it came to the trio in the booth, there were no others with their knowledge and personalities. Jenkins had earned it with years of dedicated service. Of his partners, both of whom were former competitors and champions, Jarrett was known as “Gentleman Ned.” Parsons was “Mr. Nice Guy.”
That was for a reason. And their personalities transferred to respect among viewers.
Jenkins and I met several times, and there was a time when we did a piece together, in tandem with his associate Larry Nuber, in a studio in Indianapolis.
If I had ever thought he would be aloof and distant because of his stature, that was quickly eliminated. I met a man who was as unassuming and down-to-earth as a good friend.
We chatted. A similar conversation was repeated often over the years.
“Hey, I want to tell you that I really like your work,” I said.
“I have read your stuff for years, and I admit I have learned a lot from it,” he answered with a smile.
I saw that same smile many times whenever we met in the years afterward.
The Bob Jenkins I knew was not only a splendid TV personality, but also a friendly, modest and unassuming gentleman. Godspeed.
— Steve Waid (@stevewaid) August 10, 2021
We hadn’t seen much of each other in perhaps the last decade. Of course, my career – or shall we say semi-retirement – dwindled to the point where race coverage became non-existent.
But I could still hear him. I did often. Nothing changed. His ambient personality always came through his voice.
He faced his battle with cancer with courage and dignity. I was not surprised in the least.
I believe that Bob Jenkins indeed will be remembered for his career and its long list of accomplishments.
But I also believe that, among us all, he will be remembered for the man he was.
About the author
Steve Waid has been in journalism since 1972, when he began his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. He has spent over 40 years in motorsports journalism, first with the Roanoke Times-World News and later as publisher and vice president for NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.
Steve has won numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for his motorsports coverage, feature and column writing. For several years, Steve was a regular on “NASCAR This Morning” on FOX Sports Net and he is the co-author, with Tom Higgins, of the biography “Junior Johnson: Brave In Life.”
In January 2014, Steve was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. And in 2019 he was presented the Squier-Hall Award by the NASCAR Hall of Fame for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism. In addition to writing for Frontstretch, Steve is also the co-host of The Scene Vault Podcast.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.