He knows what’s coming. He’s heard the words dozens of times. But as he hears them again, he leans back in his chair, crosses his arms, and closes his eyes. He listens to each phrase as if he’s really absorbing them for the first time, measuring the impact and significance of each individual word. Occasionally he mutters along silently.
The clip ends. Silence. He removes his glasses to wipe away a tear that has begun to well up in his eyes before it has a chance to overflow and fall upon his cheek. His eyes dart around the room for a few seconds and then fix themselves upon the sliver of a window in the door of the room in which we’re sitting, staring into the distance at nothing in particular. After a moment, he turns his eyes back to me while nodding slowly in acknowledgement. Finally he takes a deep breath and breaks the silence.
“That’s pretty cool.”
Suddenly his booming voice falls to slightly more than a whisper. The rhythmic and predictable cadence of his words slows as he struggles to push each one through the lump in his throat. As he lurches forward in his chair, he pivots the conversation away from the clip we’ve just listened to and speaks of the amazing opportunity he realizes he’s been given. He takes one more deep breath to compose himself.
“I’m just a corn-fed idiot from Monrovia, Indiana. Stuff like this doesn’t happen to guys like me.”
Now in his seventh year as the “Voice of the 500,” Mark Jaynes ascended to the role of Anchor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network in 2016, just in time for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Joining the network as a pit reporter in 1996 and then spending 17 years calling the action from Turn 3, Jaynes has a massive amount of experience behind the microphone calling the Indianapolis 500 and races all season long for the NTT IndyCar Series.
It was that experience that came into play as the final pieces of the puzzles started to unfold over the last 10 laps of last year’s race. While race fans were watching Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou take shots at each other like Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago, Jaynes could see the experience of Castroneves twenty previous race starts playing out before him as Helio worked himsef into position to claim his historic fourth victory.
But Jaynes is careful to point out that there was still business to take care of first before Castroneves and Palou could duel it out for the victory. While most eyes were, in fact, on Castroneves and Palou, they were actually running in third and fourth position until Lap 192 while Takuma Sato and Felix Rosenqvist were out front and praying for a yellow flag.
It was unlikely either Sato or Rosenqvist were going to be able to stretch the fuel to the end, but the IMS Radio Network made sure to acknowledge them so that a late caution would not force them to pivot to a new story if a yellow flag did come out. Jaynes made sure pit reporters were stationed in the pits of Sato and Rosenqvist so they could instantly report when information came that those two leaders were pitting. Once they did, the deck was cleared and the focus shifted fully to Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou.
Jaynes, along with Turn 1 and Turn 3 announcers Nick Yeoman and Jake Query, all started to realize that Helio Castroneves was lurking and potentially heading toward history over the final 100 miles of the race. While spending his day in his Turn 3 perch, Query often confirms the Top 8 positions with his broadcast partners throughout the race and records them in a flipbook for quick reference. As the race reached the last pit stint, Query says that was when he started to realize that, while other drivers had come and gone, Castoneves was one of the only drivers who had consistently been in his flipbook all day.
Around that same time, Jaynes says he was starting to think a historic day may just be on the horizon. As the laps were winding down and Helio made his way into the lead, that’s when Jaynes said the emotions ratcheted up. “It’s an adrenaline rush,” he admits. “When he made that pass, I starting thinking, ‘You’re going to get a chance to call some history here.’ It starts to seep into your consciousness and you start to, at that point, connect yourself to the magnitude of what’s unfolding in front of you.” That pass would lead to one of the great proclamations in IMS Radio Network history.
“That’s something I’ll hold pretty dear. That’s pretty special.” That’s how Turn 1 reporter Nick Yeoman describes his feelings when he hears his team call the final five laps of the 2021 Indianapolis 500.
“Foyt. Unser. Mears. And maybe Castroneves!” It’s a line that has been played on highlight reals and promotional montages. Yeoman looks back on it proudly.
As the 33 drivers had been whittled down to essentially two, Yeoman realized the historical significance of what may be unfolding in front of him. And he knew that if presented the opportunity, he wanted to pay homage to the three four-time winners of the “500” in the race’s closing laps. The irony, Yeoman says, is that he doesn’t believe it is even a great play-by-play call. “I’m not describing the pass at all,” Yeoman claims. “To someone who is listening to the 500 and doesn’t understand the relevance, they’re going to say, ‘did he take the lead or not?'”
Though he says the line didn’t do much for passing along the race action, Yeoman still says he’s “pretty proud of that [call].” “That call was for the die-hards, for folks who understand the history of the moment.”
When he hears that call now, however, Yeoman, notices what he didn’t necessarily notice at the time. Over his elevated voice and the sounds of the cars screaming by, Yeoman says what he hears so loudly now is the roar of the crowd as they yelled and cheered at the history before them. And that, Yeoman says, is the coolest part of the call.
“Last year was the very first year when I truly stopped to think about what I had witnessed. You know, I called Kanaan’s win. Ok, Kanaan won. That’s cool. I called Dario’s third win. Yeah, ok. Dario won. Wheldon’s second. And afterward I was like, ‘ok, I called that.’ Last year was the first year that as soon as it happened, and I witnessed what was happening, that the emotion of the moment was present to me in the moment as opposed to afterward.”
That’s how Jake Query described the emotion of the 2021 Indianapolis 500 in its immediate aftermath. Like his colleagues, Query takes pride in the call of the race’s finish though he doesn’t believe it to be “his accomplishment.” Rather, he says he was sharing someone else’s accomplishment with the world. Futhermore, Query is quick to heap praise on his Radio Network colleagues for the team effort and the ways they assisted each other to make the call turn out as well as it did.
Both Yeoman and Query point to the many years of experience working together and lessons learned from previous races as key factors in the team’s cohesiveness through the closing laps. Working with each other for hundreds of days behind the microphone has allowed each broadcaster to understand the style of the other, to learn the cadence with which each speaks, and to know the tone with which each team member winds down his sentence or phrase.
But Query says going through some previous experiences together, as far back as 2011 when chaos ensued at the end of the race, taught the team valuable lessons beyond just the inflections in each other’s voices. They learned the importance of looking behind the focal point of the race and how to subtly communicate over the air to make sure all scenarios are covered.
As multiple leaders were falling by the wayside of the 2011 race and the race victory appeared to fall into JR Hildebrand’s lap, Query says things were so confusing and changing so quickly that they never had the opportunity to figure out who was in second place. That experience came into play five years later.
As Alexander Rossi coasted around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on fumes at the finish of the 2016 Indianapolis 500, Query says that knowing who was behind the leader and who could win if Rossi did run out of fuel was critically important. He vividly recalls the great assistance he received from Nick Yeoman (who was calling the action in Turn 2 at that time). As Yeoman called Rossi through Turn 2 and handed the call off to Query in Turn 3, Yeoman made sure to mention that Carlos Munoz and Josef Newgarden were running close behind in second and third position, under the assumption Rossi was going to run out of fuel and one of those trailing drivers was ultimately going to be the winner.
In the same way, Query extended praise to current Turn 2 announcer, Michael Young, for a similar call on the last lap of the 2021 race. As Castroneves and Alex Palou headed out of Turn 2 and toward Turn 3 for the final time, Young made specific mention that Castroneves was following Ryan Hunter-Reay. The fact that Helio was following Hunter-Reay was, as Query put it, “totally irrelevant to the race.” Knowing that Turn 3 was the final opportunity for Palou to make a pass for the win, Query says that he believes Young made specific reference to RHR’s brightly-colored car to help Jake immediately locate Helio’s car within the long line of traffic.
It’s an on-air, inside language that Yeoman also admits to. It happens so seamlessly and is so engrained in this group of broadcasters who work 16 to 20 weekends a year together that we, the listening audience, don’t even recognize that it is going on. But, as Nick admits, sometimes the turn announcers are called upon to describe the action directly in front of them while other times they are the set up guy for action coming down the track. In some cases, Yeoman, from his Turn 1 perch, doesn’t even just set the stage for his Turn 2 counterpart, Michael Young, but wipes the slate clean entirely so Young can then set the stage for Query in Turn 3. It happens so fluidly by these professionals that the listeners don’t even notice until it is pointed out.
As the cars of Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou made their way through Turn 3 and exited in the same order in which they entered, Query says he knew Helio had the race won. It was his job to get the call to Turn 4 announcer Chris Denari who would send the drivers down the home straight one final time. It was about the time Jake handed the call off to Denari, Mark Jaynes says, that the words first came to him.
The words weren’t scripted, and he says he didn’t give them much thought. He just said them. “Helio Castroneves comes to the start/finish line. Twin checkers out AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR!”
And then there were four.
One year later, the “Voice of the 500” knows his words are historic and will be heard on video replays and radio montages for decades to come. He’s proud of his and his teams efforts and thinks their call was done as well as it could have been done. To give his words justification they do not require, Jaynes draws attention to the plaque next to their broadcast position in the Sid Collins Radio Booth from the National Motorsports Press Association, an association that he describes as a “largely NASCAR-heavy organization,” signifying the IMS Radio Network’s 2021 Indianapolis 500 broadcast as the organization’s Best Live Broadcast of 2021.
When thinking of its place in history, Jaynes, Yeoman, and Query all acknowledge the legendary 1982 and 1992 radio broadcasts as among the greatest calls in Network history. Yeoman says he hopes, in time, people will go back to listen to the 2021 broadcast and that it will stand up with those legendary calls.
Jaynes is willing to go further. “I’ll put the last two laps of this deal up against any that’s ever been called here. Period.”