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NASCAR | Commentary

COLUMN: Bob Jenkins was a key part of ESPN’s racing magic

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On Monday, the classic voice and face of NASCAR on ESPN left us.

Bob Jenkins’ death at the age of 73 wasn’t surprising after a long period of health problems, but that certainly didn’t make it any easier to digest for longtime motorsports television viewers.


Justin Epley The News Herald

While he was perhaps best known overall for his work at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the radio voice of the Indianapolis 500 for a very long time, those of us in the stock car south will forever remember Jenkins as the play-by-play voice of our favorite NASCAR races on ESPN.

For a couple decades throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Jenkins served as part of an incredible TV booth trio for NASCAR on ESPN alongside former drivers Benny Parson and Ned Jarrett with Dr. Jerry Punch, John Kernan and Bill Weber in the pits.

Although the consummate professional, Jenkins also displayed his good nature and sense of humor with the fun-loving Benny Parsons, not afraid to dish out some lighthearted jabs one minute before being on the receiving end of one just a minute later.

Countless memories of Jenkins’ calls of the triumphs and tribulations of Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, Martin, Wallace, Elliott, Rudd, Jarrett, Labonte, Bodine, Waltrip, Yarborough and all of our other heroes of the era will stand out forever.

That culminated with the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2000, which marked the first and only Cup victory for Jerry Nadeau and a meaningful goodbye as ESPN ended its NASCAR coverage tenure to give way to FOX and NBC.

Jenkins was tasked by his ESPN colleagues with delivering a truly special farewell message.

“Throughout life, we as individuals and professionals invest countless time, money and effort in search of all the elusive elements that can bring our health and happiness to the next level,” Jenkins said. “But every once in a while, magic happens. That special combination that just cannot be explained. It just happens. On a Sunday afternoon at Rockingham in 1981, the magic began.

“We now arrive at a moment every member of this team wished would never come for over a year. The time that we all knew we must go our separate ways in, hopefully just for a while, our NASCAR Winston Cup coverage. As the senior member of the team, I’ve accepted the responsibility of saying farewell. And believe me, it is not easy. Benny, Ned, Jerry, John, Bill, Mike Wells our director and Neil Goldberg our producer, and a lot of other behind-the-scenes people and I have become like family over the years. And although I and several other members of this team will continue to be seen on ESPN, our time together as a team is over.

“We thank everyone at NASCAR and the various tracks we’ve visited, but most importantly, we thank you our fans who have contributed so much to our coverage down through the years. It was for you that we’ve done this since 1981. Without you, there would have been no magic.”

But there would have been no magic without Bob Jenkins, either.

And we’ll never forget that.

Justin Epley is a sports writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at or 828-432-8943.

Justin Epley is a sports writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at or 828-432-8943.

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