Dr. Jerry Punch, who combined careers in broadcasting and medicine to become one of the most respected people in all of motorsports, was honored Friday with the Bob Russo Founders Award for dedication to auto racing.
The award was presented to Dr. Punch by Russo Award Chairman Paul Page, the 2012 honoree, in a ceremony in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's media center.
Russo, the much-admired and honored motorsports journalist/publicist/historian, founded the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association in 1955. Russo helped racing gain early national media attention in the 1950s via his stories in Speed Age magazine. He consulted IMS owner Tony Hulman on the future direction of the sport when AAA stopped sanctioning races, which led to the formation of the U.S. Auto Club. Among Russo's successes in public relations were the legendary Mobil Economy Run and with NHRA and Riverside International Raceway. Russo was the Miller Brewing Co.'s media representative for its primary sponsorship of Danny Sullivan when he won the 1985 Indy 500. His historical research and archives benefitted the sport overall, including the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He died in 1999 and age 71.
The Russo Award, as stated on the plaque, is presented "to an individual who has demonstrated profound interest, tireless efforts and undying dedication to auto racing as exemplified by Russo throughout his lifelong career.”
Dr. Punch, who will be a pit reporter for ABC's Indy 500 race telecast, was a driver and mechanic on the Carolinas short-track circuit and in 1975 began substituting for NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett as track announcer at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway. He joined the Motor Racing Network radio team at the 1980 Daytona 500 and started with ESPN in 1984 as a pit reporter for NASCAR telecasts.
Over the years, Punch has also served as host and play-by-play voice not only in numerous racing series, but college football and basketball as well.
Dr. Punch received his medical degree from Wake Forest University in 1979 and worked 14 years as emergency room services director at a Florida hospital. In 1988, he revived Rusty Wallace, who was not breathing after a crash during practice at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. A few months later, Punch joined the rescue effort to save driver Don Marmor, who crashed in an ARCA race.
Among Punch's many honors are the U.S. Air Force Outstanding Performance Award, 1990 NASCAR Team Player of the Year and the Lindsey Nelson Broadcasting Award.
Previous Russo Award winners include: 2005 – Michael Knight; 2006 – Wally Parks; 2007 – Chris Economaki; 2008 – Bob Jenkins; 2009 – Shav Glick; 2010 -- Bill York; 2011 -- Bill Marvel; 2012 -- Paul Page; 2013 -- The Hulman-George and France Families; 2014 -- Donald Davidson; 2015 -- Dick Jordan; 2016 -- Dan Luginbuhl; 2017 -- Holly Cain. A permanent plaque with all winners’ names is on display in the Speedway media center.
The award is sponsored by Collene and Gary Campbell, the sister and brother-in-law of the late Mickey Thompson.