INDIANAPOLIS — Longtime Indianapolis 500 announcer Bob Jenkins has passed away.
Jenkins, who worked in some capacity for ABC/ESPN or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an announcer in some capacity since the late 1970s, stepped back from his race duties this year after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
"I've had the greatest career that anyone could ever have ever had," Jenkins told 13News in May.
Jenkins, 73, was diagnosed with cancer last December and announced the diagnosis in February. He had beaten colon cancer in 1979.
Jenkins' Indy 500 duties began in 1979 as a backstretch reporter. In 1990, he became the chief announcer for IMS Radio and then a year later for ABC. In 2004, Jenkins became the Indianapolis Motor Speedway public address system announcer. He took on other duties in 2007 before returning to the announcer role in 2011. He's been the announcer ever since.
A native of Liberty, Indiana, Jenkins was one of just four people to serve as play-by-play announcer for the race in ABC's 54 years of airing the 500.
He was on the radio call when Al Unser Jr. edged Scott Goodyear to win his first of two Indy 500 in what remains the closest finish in race history.
“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 said on the broadcast.
Jenkins came to his first 500 as a boy in 1960 and said he only missed two races over the next 61 years. He was honored with the Robin Miller Award at IMS this past May. The award is given to "an individual who has devoted a significant portion of their life to IndyCar while bringing an unbridled passion and unrelenting work ethic to enrich the sport."
"I'm just a race fan that got lucky!" Jenkins said. "It all came together. It all fell right in place. How? I don't know, but it did."
IMS President Doug Boles tweeted a message about Jenkins' passing, noting "we lost a great one this afternoon."
"Through all the successes, Bob Jenkins 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!" Boles wrote.
Roger Penske provided this statement:
“Bob Jenkins had an incredible passion for racing and his enthusiasm, combined with his genuine love and knowledge of the sport, endeared him to motorsports fans all over the world. His announcing career spanned nearly 50 years, and to an entire generation, the sound of Bob’s voice simply meant it was time to go racing. 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. Our thoughts are with Bob’s family and his many friends throughout the racing community and beyond.”
Jenkins' work at IMS also included work as the play-by-play voice for the first seven Brickyard 400s for ABC, while covering a wide array of motorsports for ESPN. The voice of the Indiana University graduate was also heard in NASCAR-themed movies "Days of Thunder" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
Jenkins said while some fans may not have recognized his face, it was a different story when he started talking.
"All I have to do is open my mouth. Aha! That's a familiar voice!" Jenkins said in May.
His wife, Pam, died from brain cancer in 2012.