By: Spencer Neff
March 20, 2019 | 8:00 AM
On Wednesday, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrated Founders Day. As is customary on the anniversary of the Speedway’s founding, the newest class of IMS Hall of Fame Inductees were also revealed.
In 2019, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon and long-time broadcaster Bob Jenkins make up the class. The Hall of Fame Enshrinement will take place at the annual Hall of Fame/IMS Oldtimers Club dinner on May 23.
In wake of this week’s news, here’s a look at the careers and legacies of Jenkins and Wheldon.
Jenkins has been a fixture at IMS for nearly 40 years. The native Hoosier got his start at IMS in 1979 as a backstretch reporter for the Indianapolis 500 radio broadcast. In 1981, he moved on to become the Turn 1 reporter for the network, a role he served in until 1989.
By 1990, Jenkins had become the fourth “Voice of the 500”, joining Sid Collins, Paul Page and Lou Palmer. He would keep this role through 1998.
In 1999, Jenkins moved over to be the play-by-play announcer for ABC’s television broadcast and remained in that role for 2000 and 2001. In 2002 and 2003, he would transition to the position of pre-race host for ABC.
For the next three “500s,” Jenkins worked as the Speedway’s public address (PA) announcer. In 2007 and 2008, Jenkins rejoined the IMS Radio Network’s broadcast as the Turn 2 announcer.
When Versus (now NBCSN) took over a portion of IndyCar’s television broadcast schedule in 2009, Jenkins became their play-by-play voice. Jenkins remained in a working capacity at the Speedway that year, serving as a guest analyst before returning as PA announcer in 2011.
Following the 2012 season, Jenkins would step away from his role at NBCSN. For 2013, he was designated as the Turn 4 reporter for the 500. Since then, Jenkins has continued as the track’s PA announcer.
In addition to his duties at the Indianapolis 500, Jenkins has been on the call for some of the Speedway’s other memorable moments. As ESPN and ABC’s play-by-play voice for NASCAR from 1979 to 2000, he called the first seven Brickyard 400 races at IMS.
In 2003, Dan Wheldon made his Indianapolis 500 debut with Andretti Green Racing. After starting fifth, the Emberton, England native would get in an accident and go airborne on Lap 187, finishing 19th.
The following year, Wheldon began to show his prowess at IMS. After starting second and running up front for 26 laps, he finished 3rd when the race was shortened to 180 laps due to weather.
In 2005, Wheldon started 16th but charged his way to the front. He led 30 laps and won the race – fending off Danica Mania in the process – while giving Andretti Green their first win at the “500” and becoming the first race winner from England since Graham Hill (1966). Wheldon also won the series title in 2005.
A year later, Wheldon moved on to Chip Ganassi Racing. Despite leading 146 laps in 2006, he finished fourth. A Lap 163 crash on the backstretch relegated Wheldon to a career-worst 22nd-place finish in 2007 after starting sixth.
For 2008, Wheldon matched his best previous start by qualifying second. Despite leading 30 laps, he finished a challenging 12th. In 2009, Wheldon would return to IMS with Panther Racing.
Despite starting a career-worst 18th and not leading a lap for the second time in three years, Wheldon earned a second-place finish. In year two with Panther Racing, Wheldon duplicated this feat with yet another runner-up run in 2010.
By 2011, Wheldon was left without a full-time IndyCar Series ride. Fortunately, a friend and former teammate came calling for May. Wheldon would join Bryan Herta Autosport for the Indianapolis 500. Although he started sixth, Wheldon did not lead at all through the race’s first 199 laps.
When Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand crashed in Turn 4 on the final lap, Wheldon sped past for his second Indianapolis 500 victory.
In the process, Wheldon broke Joe Dawson’s record from 1912 of fewest laps led by a race winner (2). He became the 13th driver to win after finishing second the year before. Wheldon also joined Bill Holland (1949) as the only drivers to win after consecutive runner-up finishes in the two years prior.
Over the summer of 2011, Wheldon helped develop Dallara’s current IndyCar chassis, the IR-12. After Dan’s untimely passing in October of that year, the chassis was renamed the DW-12 in honor of “Lionheart.”
Open-Wheels would like to congratulate Jenkins, Wheldon and their families on their upcoming honor. We also thank them for their contributions to IMS, the Indianapolis 500 and the sport of auto racing.
Feature Image By Shawn Payne/INDYCAR