From 2010: Roger Jaynes: The Heart of Elkhart

Racing swallows people whole, takes their hard work and accomplishments for fuel, spits out anything that it can’t digest.



Sitting in a hotel room in Salt Lake City last week, I decided to take the train to Milwaukee in order to attend the Road America DMG Superbike race. Knowing I’d be traveling out of Milwaukee headed for Elkhart Lake, I tried to place a call to my old friend, Roger Jaynes, to see if we could have lunch before I hit the track. I didn’t have my address book with me in Utah and simply Googled Roger’s name, figuring sooner or later his phone number would pop up.

Unfortunately, the first link that appeared was Roger’s obituary.

Racing swallows people whole, takes their hard work and accomplishments for fuel, spits out anything that it can’t digest. The hard work, the long hours and accomplishments, sooner or later, become obscure information or a bedrock of the way things have always been done. The person who threw his back out forcing heat races into a grave in favor of timed qualifying will one day be a nameless faceless “someone”.

Roger Jaynes worked as the Director of Public Relations for Road America for more than a decade and his impact on Superbike racing and the AMA Pro Racing organization was immense. Jaynes was a former newspaper sportswriter and knew the media game better than nearly all of the PR people of the era.

Roger was widely known as one of the good guys in racing, and a man whose advice was always carefully considered. He helped run Road America in the era when Jim Haines was the General Manager of what used to be my favorite racetrack in the world. Road America had a huge Indy Car event back then, and had to fight off sponsors like Marlboro, Camel, Coke and others. Roger had a Rolodex that rivaled Dave Despain’s and could raise seemingly anyone, from Green Bay Packer coaches to execs at Harley to Mario Andretti.

In his time at Road American Roger worked with Haines and the old AMA to try and bring Grand Prix to Road America in the mid-1990s; and I think until his last day that they weren’t able to bring GP to Wisconsin was something he felt very disappointed by. He wanted to hear a 500’s shriek through the trees at Elkhart just as much as the rest of us. He was also always pining for a Superbike rider from Wisconsin, and I wondered what he’d be able to do in Chicago and Milwaukee with Blake Young.

Former AMA Pro Racing Communications Manager Larry Lawrence remebers Roger Jaynes fondly. He wrote in an e-mail:

I went on a media tour with Roger, Kawasaki PR man Eric Putter and Fred Merkel in the mid-1990s doing a behind-the-scenes story for American Roadracing. The tour was a full day featuring Chicago and Milwaukee. At one of the TV stations Merkel was asked what it was like to ride a Superbike. His reply was not exactly what the stick-and-ball oriented TV reporter expected.

“It ain’t fun, I’ll tell you that,” Merkel said matter of factly. “What you have in a Superbike is a 150 horsepower, 375 pound bucking beast that wants to throw you off in every corner. I don’t really recommend it.”

The reporter stood stunned, Putter chewed his fingernails nervously and I looked over at Roger and he had a big smile on his face.

When we got back in the car after the interview Roger was clearly excited and said to Fred, “That was a great quote. They’ll eat that up.”

Sure enough—I watched the news that night and the station led off with Merkel’s “bucking beast” quote. Roger had an ear for the sound bite and he was right on in his guess that the station would use that quote over anything else Merkel said in the interview.

Roger was Wisconsin through and through, which if you’re not from the Midwest probably doesn’t mean much to you. Wisconsin is an interesting place, very eclectic. AM radio stations in the area will play a Buddy Holly album on Saturday morning and follow it up with one by Frank Sinatra, then broadcast the Packer game. First song after the game? Something from AC/DC.

I wrote some stories for him in the early 1990s and learned a lot about the craft of deadline and column writing from Roger. He knew what worked and how to filter through all the crap of of the writing life. He wasn’t impressed by pretty boy, showy prose written by angst-filled manic-depressives. Get an angle, write the lead and let the story flow, he’d say.

I’ll miss talking to him and occasionally seeing his ruddy face at the track. Roger Jaynes was always writing a a Sherlock Holmes novel in his spare time and I see that they have been published. I look forward to reading them.

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