By: Tanner Watkins
January 22, 2018 | 10:01 AM
The year is 1996, and under overcast skies with a cool breeze gusting out of the east, the Indianapolis 500 is about to commence for an 80th time.
While the engines fire and crew members rush to evacuate the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s world-famous frontstretch, a lifelong dream is about to be realized.
The warm and assuring voice of Bob Jenkins leads another race day radio broadcast from the Pagoda positioned at the start/finish line, and a roll call is in order. He begins to round up his troops stationed at each corner of the historic racetrack, one-by-one calling out their names.
Each time they radio back, eager for the start of 500 grueling miles and completely oblivious of what will lie ahead. For one driver, they will enter the realm of racing immortality as winner of the world-renowned Indy 500.
Finally, it is time for a rookie to take his turn at the microphone on this Memorial Day weekend. As Jenkins signals down to the north end of pit lane, he makes that dream a reality. “Now let’s welcome the newest member of the IMS Radio Network, Mark Jaynes.”
Buddy Lazier would not be the only one whose life was changed that day.
Roots of a respected career
A self-titled corn-fed kid from Monrovia, Indiana, Mark Jaynes’ first love wasn’t broadcasting.
Growing up in the 1970s, aspirations of playing Major League Baseball were at the forefront of Jaynes’ to-do list. Through the sixth grade he was all-in on making it to the big leagues, with plans to take his talents to the most historic and well-manicured baseball diamonds that the United States had to offer.
That was all until an elementary school principal broke the news to him that he was actually “terrible” at baseball, and a different career path would be in Jaynes’ best interest.
“He suggested instead that I employ my obvious love of sports – and my inability to keep my mouth shut – into a career in broadcasting or journalism,” said Jaynes, jokingly.
“I asked for a cassette recorder for Christmas and would soon begin calling ballgames while watching television.”
Raised in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jaynes had a natural affection for the Indianapolis 500. He would create and record mock races with his friends on that cassette recorder, utilizing them as drivers on the broadcast.
While the image of 400,000 excited spectators and 33 roaring machines at the Speedway filled his head, he could visualize that spectacle with thanks to a few legendary voices floating through the airwaves.
“The picture that was painted in my mind (is all) thanks to the IMS Radio Network, via the sounds created by the mass of humanity and the roar of the engines once the green flag fell,” recalled Jaynes. “I can’t think of a time in my 54 years (that) it wasn’t a monumental event.”
By his sophomore year in high school, Jaynes had begun calling in recaps of sporting events for a local radio station, with the broadcast affiliate offering $5 for each three- to four-minute recap. Following the completion of high school, he began working at the station full-time.
Jaynes eventually found a home at WTHI in Terre Haute, Indiana, a CBS affiliate. Over the course of 13 years at WTHI, he had the opportunity to hone his broadcasting craft by calling races at the Terre Haute Action Track and hosting Indianapolis 500 coverage for the network.
It was there that he had the opportunity to learn under the station’s news director, veteran Martin Plascak, who offered over six decades of experience to a relatively green Jaynes.
In recalling other influential figures in the fabric of a prospering broadcasting career, Jaynes recognizes names such as Curt Gowdy, Dick Enberg and Charlie Jones as outside sources that shaped his style.
More directly influencing his career, the 54-year-old rattles off a who’s who list of auto racing royalty that touched his professional life and made Jaynes who he is today – including Gary Lee, Mike King, Paul Page and Bob Jenkins.
“I credit the late Gary Lee for making me a motorsports broadcaster,” states Jaynes. “I was a good broadcaster when I joined the IMS Radio Network, but Gary taught me motorsports broadcasting.
“While we influenced each other, I credit Mike King (long time IMS Radio Network anchor) with teaching me the proper way to inject enthusiasm into a broadcast. I’m comfortable with saying I think our calls of the all-oval Indy Racing League shows were some of the best broadcasts in any form of motorsports.
“The professionalism of Paul Page and the organization of Bob Jenkins are also traits I try to emulate,” Jaynes includes.
Welcome to Indianapolis, Mr. Jaynes
In 1996, Jaynes got the big break he was searching for. He was tapped for two broadcasts during the maiden Indy Racing League season, one of which included the 80th Running of the Indianapolis 500 as a pit reporter.
By 1997, he began consistently calling races for the Indy Racing League with appearances on pit lane, in the turns and on Indy Lights broadcasts.
Finally, 20 years after the legendary Bob Jenkins called his name for the first time on an Indianapolis 500 broadcast, it was Jaynes leading the production for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing’s 100th running in 2016.
Fully realizing the magnitude of his inclusion to a very elite fraternity, Jaynes pays homage to the greats that have come before him with each opportunity.
“There have been six (lead) anchors in 64 years, so clearly it isn’t a large fraternity,” Jaynes remarks. “Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. To me, Sid Collins will always be the Voice of the 500. I’m the anchor now, but I’m simply writing my chapter until the 7th is named – which I hope doesn’t happen anytime soon.”
While being the lead anchor on the Indianapolis 500 broadcast brings massive amounts of stress and challenge, it is the satisfaction of being the Voice of the 500 that brings him back for more each May.
“It’s a massive responsibility, and as Bob Jenkins said, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” admits Jaynes. “It is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Documenting what it takes to produce a successful Indianapolis 500 radio broadcast, Jaynes says he begins planning for the pre-race show in February with executive producer Chris Pollock, IMS Radio Network director Wally Leavitt and chief engineer Rick Evans.
The team bounces ideas off each other, lines up segments with the anticipated pre-race festivities, and touches base with turn announcers and pit road personalities over the spring to solidify roles for race day.
For Jaynes, race day excitement begins Saturday evening before the Indianapolis 500. Residing just a few blocks from the Speedway, he will take a stroll along Georgetown Road and interact with fans. After a few phone interviews and one final review of the pre-race script, it is off to bed.
Rising early in the morning, Jaynes does what most in attendance don’t get to do on Indy 500 race day – he walks to the track.
“I’ll walk over very early and sit on the pit wall for a few minutes and imagine what it will look like in just a few short hours,” Jaynes says. “I then make my way to the 9th floor (of the Pagoda) and I’m usually the first to arrive in the booth.
“I’ll sit quietly for a few minutes, think of Sid, Lou (Palmer), Paul, Bob and Mike, trying to imagine if their thoughts on that day were anything like mine.”
With emotion in his words, Jaynes describes the race itself as organized chaos. With three hours of on-track action ripping by at 230 miles per hour, he appreciates all the moving parts and behind-the-scenes action that the listener doesn’t get to experience as the real guts of the production.
Following the completion of 500 miles, the micro-burst of energy that endured the afternoon finally begins to erode. “Once the show ends, I push myself away from the console and my hands are shaking,” says Jaynes. “Mike King warned me that would happen – your adrenaline is pumping so fast for so long.”
After congratulatory well-wishes and a walk back to his home from the iconic Speedway, Jaynes will descend to his basement in an attempt to decompress from the insanity he was in the center of just hours before. Another month in May has come and gone.
Reflection – but just for a moment
In recalling one of his favorite moments from over 20 years of broadcasting from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jaynes goes back to that maiden year in 1996.
After a race day police escort to IMS’s master control tower, he is greeted by some of Indiana’s most legendary broadcasters.
“Bob Jenkins, Donald Davidson, Chuck Marlowe, Howdy Bell, Jerry Baker, Bob Lamey, Mike King, Ken Double, and one of the best in the world, Chris Economaki,” he recalls. “It was hard to believe that I belonged there. I remember thinking after the show, ‘If they don’t ask me to come back, I will have done it once,’ which was more than I ever imagined.”
Now the year is 2018, and Jaynes is preparing for his third broadcast as anchor of the Indianapolis 500 and his 24th year at the track as a broadcast professional.
“Honestly, it is crazy to think about,” Jaynes admits. “Voice of the 500, Mark Jaynes, from Monrovia, Indiana. I guess dreams really do come true. Mine sure did.”
Images courtesy of IndyCar, Barry Kent, Dave King and WHTR Indianapolis. You can read our first entry in the “Voices of the 500” series featuring lead television commentator, Allen Bestwick, here.