December 16, 2018
Seth and Sutton Sharp
Last week, we talked with broadcasting legend Bob Jenkins about his life today, his impactful career and much more.
Keep It 35: What does a day in the life of Bob Jenkins consist of in 2018?
Bob Jenkins: Boy, we start off with a very boring question! I lead a very boring life, but that is exactly the way that I want it to be. When I was working, I lived in suburban Indianapolis and at that time my wife was living and I had two dogs and was living the idealistic lifestyle. As many know, my wife passed away in 2012.
I grew up in a very small town and quite honestly never liked the city life. I decided that I would get out of the suburban Indianapolis area and I moved to a smaller town that had less traffic and construction problems, and so forth. I moved about 40 miles away from the Speedway, which is really the only place that I go these days. Other than that, I don’t really do anything. I am very relaxed, I am very grateful for the fact that I have nothing to do. I was able to travel enough during my working days that I am just glad that it is all over so that I can take it easy now.
Alot of people say, “Don’t you get bored during the day?”, and my answer is “No, I don’t.”. I still do a radio show, which is totally different from the broadcasting career that I had. My second love has always been music, especially 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s music. There is a low-power radio station in Indiana where I do a one hour program every week with 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s music. I love doing it.
I don’t do it every week because I have been doing it for about six or seven years, but I have a stockpile where if I don’t do an episode, I have one ready to be aired. That keeps me easy when I get bored but other than that, I just hang around the house and enjoy myself.
Keep It 35: Jumping into your broadcasting career, what would you say was the most difficult part about calling a race?
Bob Jenkins: Nothing really, but there is always the fear of calling it wrong, especially when there are two or three cars coming down to the finish line. For some reason, you may not see or might not be able to distinguish which car may have won the race. It was always my fear but that never really happened. I had experience before I worked with ESPN, ABC and then NBCSN, so that it wasn’t really anything that I had a problem with.
There were times where I would pronounce a name or a place wrong and make a mistake of some type. That would really bother me. I had hoped to have a 32 year career of making no mistakes, but unfortunately that didn’t happen and I had many. I had always come home from a race knowing if I had made a mistake or didn’t do something right, and that would always bother me for a few days. That is one reason why I am still glad that I am retired now that I don’t have to fear that anymore.
Keep It 35: Ned Jarrett famously got to call Dale home when he won the Daytona 500 in 1993. Were there ever any instances when you were in the booth where you really wanted something to happen but you had to hide your true emotions in that moment?
Bob Jenkins: Not really, no.
When I first got into this business of NASCAR and IndyCar, I told myself that I would not let myself become close with any driver because of the potential of what could happen. That is a philosophy that I carried throughout my entire career.
The only time that I varied from that was when Dan Wheldon started working in the booth with us on IndyCar races, just before my career ended. Of course we all know what happened to Dan. That really, really hurt me.
I think that I was proud of Jeff Gordon when he won the first Brickyard 400 because I had known Jeff since he was 15 years old driving sprint cars down in Florida. We became very close during his NASCAR career. I was glad to be able to call his win at the Brickyard 400, but really that is about it.
Keep It 35: We were born in 1989 and 1991 and we grew up with NASCAR in 90’s. Jeff winning at the Brickyard. Jimmy Spencer winning the Pepsi 400, there were so many calls of yours that we can remind word by word, pitch by pitch. You were just talking about Jeff winning at the Brickyard. Would you say that is your favorite call that you made or is there another that stands out to you as one that was impactful to your career?
Bob Jenkins: There is only one and that is head, shoulders and a long way above any other one. That was in 1992 when I was the anchor announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. The 500 occurred on what could only be described as a miserable weather day. It didn’t rain but it was brutally, and I mean brutally cold. Strong wind, low temperature. Of course I was in the booth with others, but I had four turn reporters and five or six in the pits and it was terribly cold for them, just uncomfortable. It got to the point for them that even though me and all of my colleagues always look forward every year to the 500, that we were just hoping that it would just get over with.
Michael Andretti dominated the race and when all was said and done it came down to the closest finish in history with Al Unser Jr and Scott Goodyear. That call is the one that I remember and will always remember for the rest of my life. Al even made a TV commercial out of my call and that made me of course very proud.
The only other one that might come close, but quite honestly I don’t remember any of my calls that I made, except Indy in 1992 and possibly the final NASCAR race of 1992. There were five drivers or so going for the championship and that was an exciting thing for me too.
Other than those two, one call was just like the previous one to me and I don’t remember any of them.
Keep It 35: Do you have a favorite Winston Cup season that you were apart of, that maybe was more fun to broadcast or to follow along with?
Bob Jenkins: Every race I ever did with Benny and Ned was memorable to me. I loved those guys and I miss Benny so much. I really, really do even though it has been many years since he passed away. There is hardly a day that goes by, in fact there was just one today that I hear something and think “That sounds just like ol’ BP.” I just love that guy and I think he loved me too. We used to ride to every race together and listen to the radio together. He loved old country music and we would sing on the way to the track. It was always fun going out to eat with BP of course because he knew where to go and what to have.
The “Buffet Benny” thing was so fun, but we punished him so much. You would not believe some of the things that happened behind the scenes when we did a wrong take for some of those “Buffet Benny” programs. I miss BP so much.
Ned, God Bless him. I understand he is still doing well and I try to keep up with what he is doing. He too was just an absolute delight to work with because he, in my opinion, was the epitome of a country gentleman. He was so polite. He always knew what he was talking about.
The thing that always impressed me with Ned was that he could keep up with everything that Dale was doing on the race-track, which included timing him just about every lap and on the other hand, he was fully aware of what was going on as far as our broadcast was concerned. How he could keep up with those two elements always impressed me.
Every day I had with those guys was a big, big deal for me and I will never forget them.
Keep It 35: I think it was evident to us and all of the other fans that you guys had such a great chemistry together. From reading posts and articles about favorite broadcast teams of all-time, it’s rare to ever see one where you guys aren’t right at the top.
Bob Jenkins: I hear that too and again I am grateful for the opportunity I had to work with them. We all decided at the on-set of our time working together that telecasts would be like all three of us were sitting in our home just talking about the race, rather than doing a lot of play-by-play and doing statistics and so forth. I think that really worked with the viewing public and they liked the attitude that we had in every race that we had.
I am really glad for the opportunity and I really appreciate what race fans are still saying about the broadcast team that we put together.
Keep It 35: After you stopped broadcasting Winston Cup races in 2000, were there ever any other NASCAR opportunities that you received since then that you passed on?
Bob Jenkins: No, as a matter of fact there were a few years where I was out of work and thought “Oh, boy! I had a great career and it’s going to come crashing down and I will be sitting around for 10-15 years before I’ll be eligible for retirement!”
Fortunately the IndyCar Series signed up with Versus at that time, which ultimately became the NBC Sports Network. I was able to get a job with them and ended my career with that group.
Growing up in Indiana, I was an open wheel fan from the beginning and I never lost that. I was glad to do the NASCAR races and I was very glad that we had the opportunity to take NASCAR where it went. I don’t mean to be bragging about that but I think that ESPN exposed the sport to people that were wondering about it. As time went on, more and more people liked it and we built up a great following for NASCAR. I was always personally more into IndyCar racing than I was into NASCAR, so it was cool to end my career doing that.
Now, I am doing public address at the Speedway for the entire month of May and for the Brickyard weekend here at the 400. As I said earlier, my wife is gone. My two little dogs that I had are gone. I am by myself and literally I live from one year to the next to work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I really do. That place is a religious mecca to me. I love the place.
I work occasionally for the Speedway museum doing various things. They have programs that they have throughout the year where I help them out and I love doing that. Anything I can do for the Speedway, I am very, very willing to do because it does mean that much to me. It has given so much to me in my lifetime that I feel like I must give back as much as I possibly can.
Keep It 35: Do you still follow NASCAR today at all?
Bob Jenkins: Not nearly as much as I used to. I do like the racing I see at Daytona and Talladega but some of the other races, I don’t really follow it to the point to know who is winning races and who is battling for the championship.
Quite honestly, I don’t agree with some of the rules that NASCAR has now. I don’t think there should be a Daytona 505 or 510. I think that when the 200th lap rolls around the race should end regardless of what condition the race-track is in.
The other factor is that Jeff is gone. Tony Stewart is gone, another guy that I grew up with at Indianapolis. It’s just not the same in terms of personalities that were involved when I was with the sport.
Keep It 35: Every season NASCAR puts on a throwback show at the Southern 500. For a few years they had Ken Squier and Ned in the booth. Have you ever received a call to participate and if you haven’t, would you think about getting back in the NASCAR booth for a few laps one more time?
Bob Jenkins: I have turned down two opportunities to do that. The very first year I was urged to do so, but at that point I was suffering with a major spinal/neck problem. I was due for surgery shortly after the Southern 500, so I turned it down. Just this past year, I was asked if I might want to come. I said no because it would seem weird to me to go back, especially with not being as familiar with the drivers that I once was. I’m not sure that I would have fit in properly. I thank everybody for urging me to do so, but I think that it’s best for me to just stay back here in good ‘ol Indiana and watch on TV rather than participate.
Keep It 35: I definitely think there are two ways of looking at it. Your legacy speaks for itself and if after 2000 you were to never call another NASCAR race again, you’ll still go down as one of the greats. On the other hand, I do know that the fans would love to hear from you one more time. They definitely have not forgot about you in the least bit. Regardless of how much you are currently following the racing today, I know it would be a huge hit if that were to ever take place! We are really grateful that we got to listen in and that you shared your talents with us over the years.
Bob Jenkins: I really appreciate that. Again, I am very, very happy and grateful that I had the opportunity to work in NASCAR as long as I did. Things have worked out really well for me and I don’t seek any accolades or anything for the work that I did. I just did what I was able to do. I never want to be thought of as a hero. I have always been a race fan who got lucky because I ended up doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was growing up. I wanted to be involved in auto-racing and things worked out exactly the way they did. I am grateful for that, but I am also happy retired.
Keep It 35: Is there anything else you’d like to share with the fans?
Bob Jenkins: Nothing really, except I am healthy. I had colon cancer in 1983. The surgery was in March and I don’t think I missed a single ESPN telecast because of that. I remember my wife accompanied me at the time and pushed me around in a wheel-chair. I survived. There was a rumor about two years ago that “Bob has cancer again because he is going in for a procedure.”. That was absolutely not true. I’ve really had no major health issues since that time in 1983. I think I’m going to survive that cancer!
I am healthy. I am happy. I am grateful for all the race fans that still remember me. I love every one of you and thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of my career and what I accomplished during my career.
Keep It 35: We want to thank you so much again for talking to us. You were a huge part of our childhood and I know not just us but so many other fans out there lived off of NASCAR because of your voice and the way you described the action. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and I know everyone is going to be happy to hear that you are happy and healthy
Bob Jenkins: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you!