A brief Q and A with Bob Jenkins

Posted by Iannucci | 4/14/2010 | , | 5 comments »
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There aren't too many interviews done here at My Name Is IRL, but when the opportunity to have a little electronic chit-chat with VERSUS announcer Bob Jenkins comes along, well, saying "no" isn't really an option.

Here's his resume for those who may not know: Jenkins has 30 years of professional experience as covering motorsports, conducting either host or play-by-play duties for innumerable IndyCar and N****R races. Many of those were on ESPN, where he was one of the first announcers hired in the early 1980s. He even serves on the public address staff at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a position which I would surmise every young Hoosier aspires to at some point. And he's awesome.

(I know, it doesn't actually say "awesome" on his resume, but it should.)

So without any further unnecessary gushing on my part, please enjoy this little Q&A with Mr Jenkins on subjects like booth monitors, basketball, and the infamous "brassiere".

MNII: Since you’ve been announcing all different kinds of motorsports for decades you’re one of the few qualified to answer this question. What’s more difficult to follow as an announcer – 24 IndyCars in street races or 43 stock cars on an oval?

BJ: It's all the same, because I never look at the track. Once in a while I'll get up during a commercial break and stretch my legs and will glance at the track, but for the most part we all watch our monitors. In a normal IZOD IndyCar Series race on VERSUS, I have at least six monitors in front of me, the main one has the "air" signal on it, that is what the viewers at home are seeing. We concentrate on talking about what is on the air, so as not to confuse the viewers. Some of the races, such as those in Japan, Brazil and Edmonton, we call from the studio. Although it's nice to be at the venue, it's just as easy to call a race from studio since you're only talking about what's on the screen.

MNII: Have there been many names during your career that have been troublesome to try to pronounce? Like Simona de Silvestro or Thiago Medeiros or Dick Trickle?

BJ: My biggest problem was when I was doing a few Formula One telecasts, and also "SpeedWeek". Although I took four years of Spanish in high school and college, I was never good at French names. With a few minutes of practice, I can usually pronounce them correctly.

MNII: Your biography lists lots of experience covering auto races, but haven’t you announced other sports? Surely a good Hoosier such as yourself has covered at least one basketball game during your illustrious career.

BJ: You're right, basketball is the sport in Indiana. But I never was much of a basketball fan. I didn't play in either high school or college. I attended Indiana University and of course have always supported and rooted for the team, but this year I couldn't help but "fall in love" with the Butler Bulldogs. I think they stole the hearts of many fans nationwide.

The only other sport I ever covered was a track meet in Syracuse in the early 80's. But only one, I must not have done a very good job. The other sports I enjoy are hockey and baseball but have never done play-by-play for either.

MNII: Last month there was a very humble apology appearing at the TrackForum site under your name, saying that your announcing during the epic 2010 opener in Sao Paolo was “awful”. From what I could tell the only thing viewers noted was your one-time pronunciation of “Brazil” as “brassiere”, and most of them were amused and not upset. Was that message actually from you, and if so what prompted it?

BJ: I don't take criticism well but I should since I've been the subject of lots of it over the years. The "brassiere" thing upset me so much, I just felt I had to say something. When I go on the air, I want to do a better job than the time before and then when something like that happens it really bothers me. I feel it's very important to maintain a close relationship with race fans and that was my way of reaching out to them. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm just a race fan who got lucky and have the job that I dreamed about when growing up.

MNII: You once said in an interview that if you could broadcast any Indy 500 it would be the race from 1960, which you said you attended as a boy. This brings to mind an endearing image of a 12-year-old Bob Jenkins developing his craft by sitting in Turn Four talking into his track fries. When did you start thinking about being an announcer and was there anyone you wanted to emulate?

BJ: The 1960 race that I attended with my father ranks as one of the two most memorable days of my life. The other being a USAC "Championship" race at the Dayton, (Ohio) Speedway when I was 8. The 1960 race was one of the most competitive races, and I think I would have enjoyed working it. On the other hand, I would take nothing for the day with my father, who passed away in 1988.

People kept telling me in high school I had a good voice. So it was then that I started thinking about broadcasting as a career. My second passion besides racing is 50's and 60's music. I guess initially I saw myself as a "disc jockey", but in college I began to consider the possibility of combining broadcasting with my love of racing. That began to happen in 1972 when I moved to Indianapolis. Through the help of many people I was able to do that.

MNII: The fan reaction still appears to be positive to the VERSUS broadcast booth team that pairs you with Jon Beekhuis and Robbie Buhl. Despite his incredible on-air composure, does Robbie ever just go off or start throwing things off-air when something happens to one of his Dreyer & Reinbold cars?

BJ: The only time that Robbie has physically expressed emotion was during qualifying at Indy last year. It was the day that nothing was going right for D & R. At one point he had to get up out of his chair and walk it off. But I don't think it was obvious on the air. He's able to separate his job as team owner and broadcaster very well. I couldn't be happier with the two guys with whom I work in the booth.

MNII: Last question: With all of your experience do you ever get butterflies in your stomach, and if so are you more likely to feel them staring into a camera speaking to a faceless audience of millions or speaking into the public address system before hundreds of thousands at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

BJ: I've been at this job since 1979. I feel as if I have encountered every conceivable on-air situation during that time. So I don’t really get nervous anymore, believing that whatever happens I've dealt with before. I don't think about the hundreds or thousands of people to whom I'm speaking. It's just me and you, one listener or viewer.

The only race that makes me very emotional is the Indy 500. During the 20-minutes directly preceeding the command to start engines, I think about who I am, how lucky I am, my dad, family, friends and my heroes who are about to run the most important race of their lives. I'm not ashamed to say that many tears stream down my face during that time.

(My sincerest thanks to Mr Jenkins, as well as Leslie Byxbie of VERSUS for assisting with this interview.)


  1. Unknown // April 14, 2010 10:02 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  2. Roy Hobbson // April 14, 2010 11:35 AM  

    Bob Jenkins is majestic. Like a big, well-spoken bear.

    Well played, you two.

  3. Anonymous // April 14, 2010 1:03 PM  

    Grand prix of Alabama is "the first race on U.S. soil in 2010" (Bob Jenkins, April 11, at Barber Motorsports Park)

  4. Leigh O'Gorman // April 14, 2010 11:59 PM  

    I don't see why so many people made a big deal out of a simple mistake - one of the reasons that Murray Walker is so loved is because he made simple little fluffs every so often.

    However, both Jenkins and Walker are incredibly passionate, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about motor racing and that is something that cannot be faked.

    All hail Jenkins!!

  5. Turn13 // April 15, 2010 3:25 AM  

    Bob, it looks like by and large the fans at TrackForum definitely appreciate your talent and enthusiasm: http://www.trackforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=135966&page=1&pp=20