April 1, 2013
I had just ordered a Bison Burger with bacon and cheese and frankly, I was concerned.
We were at Ted’s Montana Grill just outside of Colorado Springs. It was said to be the best burger joint within shouting distance of Pike’s Peak International Speedway. This was important to me because I take food seriously.
It was late 1999. Our broadcast crew was in Colorado to televise the USAC midget race that would serve as the opening event for the brand new Pike’s Peak facility.
The waitress wanted to know if I’d have pepper jack or Swiss. I was already taking a chance by eating a distant cousin of the wooly mammoth, so why not swing for the fence? I’ll go with pepper jack.
We were about to collectively dive into our Ted’s Famous Bison Burgers when a random restaurant customer approached our table. In his left hand he held a paper napkin. It did not appear to be in new condition. In his right hand was a cheap Bic bearing Tyrannosaurus-like teeth marks.
The under-equipped autograph seeker stalks his prey.
I was a young and hungry amateur-race-driver-turned-wannabe-broadcaster sitting between two men I considered legends in the sport.
On my right was Larry Rice, a fine broadcaster, great friend, midget champ, and the 1978 Indy 500 co-Rookie of the Year who never failed to graciously point out that he was the co-Rookie of the Year (emphasis on “co-“), an honor he shared with some guy named Rick Mears.
Sitting on my left was Jenkins, who had served as talent and host in nearly every form of auto racing worth televising.
Who did the race fan approach? Certainly not me. To my surprise, he didn't even approach Larry. He went straight to Bob Jenkins, who ignored the teeth marks, autographed the dirty napkin and courteously granted the race fan his undivided attention even as his Bison Burger got cold.
I make a mental note. This is how every race announcer (and driver) should treat fans. This is what professionals do.
Wait a minute. Another mental note occurs. Since when does a race fan walk past a former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year to ask for a TV announcer’s autograph? Since freaking never.
Such has been the impact of Bob Jenkins on American auto racing. And that was 14 years ago.
Many thousands of fans rejoiced in January when USAC announced that Jenkins would step in as the voice of the Silver Crown racing series in 2013. Jenkins will come out of retirement to announce eleven Silver Crown events this year, offering race fans a chance to hear a voice that will one day be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Economaki and Sid Collins.
This is not simply good news for Silver Crown. It is good news for race fans nationwide who recognize Bob’s familiar, easy-to-listen-to manner. It is good news for drivers, who never need fear that Jenkins will criticize them out of a ride. It is good news for aspiring broadcasters, who get one more chance to learn how to announce a race from one of the all-time masters.
And it is good news for Bob, because this is what he loves and this is where he belongs.
Silver Crown racing is the epitome of Midwest open-wheel action. Bob’s announcing makes the entire event feel familiar and comfortable. Historic venues like Belleville, DuQuoin, Indianapolis and Milwaukee round out a perfect scenario that harkens back to a day when drivers were not plastic corporate clones and no one knew what “spec racing” meant.
Bob Jenkins has come out of retirement. If you consider yourself a real racing fan, go enjoy a Silver Crown show this season and appreciate the return of one of the finest voices in the sport.
And be sure to bring a napkin and a pen.
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
#20 Boschett Timepieces/Ed & Co. Racing Supplies ARCA Truck
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions