He’s the voice of the Indy 500 and he’s making history

Last year, Bob Jenkins, long-time Indy 500 announcer underwent hip replacement surgery by
IU Health Saxony Doctor R. Michael Meneghini. Today, Jenkins is making history as an inductee into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame.

The only reason Bob Jenkins has slowed down when he walks around the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is because he keeps getting stopped. He takes just a few steps and someone holds out a hand, pats him on the back or snaps a picture.

“I feel great and I’m moving much faster than last year. I don’t have the pain anymore,” said Jenkins, 71. A month after last year’s race, Jenkins was in so much pain he said it took his breath away. On June 4, 2018 under the care of IU Health Saxony’s Dr. R. Michael Meneghini Jenkins underwent surgery for a total hip replacement.

His surgery involved removing the diseased femoral head (the ball of the joint) and the socket joint and replacing it with a stem down the femoral bone (thigh bone) with a new ball attached to the top. The procedure then involved placing an implant into the pelvis that has a polyethylene liner (the socket) that accepts the ball and acts as the new hip joint.

Between 100-120 total hip and knee replacement procedures are performed monthly at IU Health Saxony. Dr. Meneghini estimates 95 percent of the hip replacements last about 20 years.

For a few days after surgery Jenkins had some assistance at home and then he was on his own. “I dreaded that I might have to go into rehab after surgery but Dr. Meneghini said, ‘get up and walk. So I did,” said Jenkins, who went to his first Indianapolis 500 qualification in 1957. Three years later he attended his first race with his dad. Since then he has been hooked on the Indianapolis 500. In fact, he’s been to every race since 1966.

Little has slowed Jenkins down in the past year since his surgery. After fixing up a yellow 1960 Thunderbird he named “Big Bird” he’s traveled to a number of car shows placing in the top 40 at each showing. He enjoyed a cruise up the east coast to Nova Scotia where he visited Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the resting place of more than 100 victims of the sinking RMC Titanic.

“It’s been a good year. I’ve had little discomfort since surgery. Dr. Meneghini was an excellent surgeon,” said Jenkins.

Also in the past year he vacationed in Florida and traveled to Phoenix to take in some pre-season baseball games.

“I feel so much more comfortable doing things now. For instance, I’m a hockey fan and with the St. Louis Blues in the play offs, I just decided one morning I was going to book a hotel and take off for St. Louis. A year ago, before surgery I may have hesitated,” said Jenkins.

Walking miles around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has required less effort this year.

  • PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Voice of Indy 500: “Hip Surgery Relieved My Pain”

For years, Jenkins’ voice has been heard throughout the month of May. He worked for the IMS Radio Network from 1979 to 1998 and in 1994 when the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race made its debut he became the point man for television coverage. He remained active with ABC and ESPN through the 2003 season and later served in various roles with the Speedway before returning to television broadcasting. He retired in 2012 from television but continues to serve as both the voice of the IMS public address system and an emcee during key events.

That distinction has not gone unnoticed. In addition to shaking hands, signing autographs and chatting with fans, Jenkins has been selected to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Hall of Fame. Tonight – during special ceremonies a the Marriott -Jenkins will join such familiar racing greats as three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti and two-time Brickyard winner Tony Stewart in taking his place in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

“This is the greatest honor ever,” said Jenkins. “I always thought the Hall of Fame should be for drivers, mechanics and others more closely associated with the track.” He joins other famous speedway media personalities, such a Tom Carnegie and Sid Collins.

A panel of 140 journalists and racing historians votes the award on annually. Joining Jenkins as the 2019 Hall of Fame recipient will be two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon.

“The unique thing about this is that I’ve been hesitant to get too close to a lot of the drivers over the years but Dan and I were great friends,” said Jenkins. In addition to racing, Wheldon was an in-race reporter. He died Oct. 16, 2011 at the age of 33 following a racing collision.

“I’m going to be nervous and emotional,” said Jenkins. “The speedway has been my life. I will be here as long as they’ll have me.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.