Early life and career
Punch began his broadcasting career in Newton, NC, when he was selected to join the local high school radio station Staff of Newton-Conover High School. The local radio station, WNNC in Newton, NC, provided free air time to the local high school broadcasting organization with rotational assignments to the aspiring broadcast journalists. Students at the high school auditioned for the much sought after staff positions. Jerry was successful and was selected by fellow students to become a new reporter and, thus, he was permitted to participate in the weekly Saturday morning live broadcasts on WNNC.
Punch worked as an emergency medicine physician at Bunnell Community Hospital (now known as Florida Hospital Flagler) before moving to ESPN in 1984 as a pit reporter for NASCAR races. While working at ESPN, Punch also moonlighted at TBS and SETN doing pit reporting, as he was the first to report on the injuries to driver Terry Schoonover during the 1984 Atlanta Journal 500 for the network's race coverage.
In 1988, in two separate incidents, he helped with the rescue efforts after the wrecks of Rusty Wallace and Don Marmor. In the case of Wallace's front-stretch crash at Bristol Motor Speedway, Punch happened to be on pit road at the time, and as a result, was the first person on the scene before the rescue crew could be scrambled. Punch's medical training proved pivotal, as Wallace was initially unconscious following the crash. Punch revived Wallace, who was able to start the following night's race with only minor injuries, driving for about half the race before giving his seat up to a relief driver. Wallace now works with Punch in ESPN's coverage of NASCAR.
Punch is also credited with helping to save Ernie Irvan following a practice crash at Michigan International Speedway in August 1994. Punch also had aided injured pit crew members on pit road in several races in the 1990s.
While Punch was addressing a Nashville Superspeedway media luncheon he was interrupted by a loud crash from the back of the room. Punch immediately rushed from the podium to the back of the room where Jenny Gill (daughter of singer/musician, Vince Gill), a Nashville Superspeedway intern, had fainted. Punch helped revive her, and she was taken to a local care center for observation and soon recovered, according to Sean Dozier, the Superspeedway's public relations director. Punch returned to the podium and resumed his speech.
Other assignments for ESPN
Punch also has been ESPN's expert for discussion of medical issues, has called play-by-play for college basketball and football, and has served as a sideline reporter for college football. He also was consulted as a doctor in 1996 to report the condition of Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier who would go undrafted in the NFL due to a blood clot in his left leg.
On October 12, 2006, he was named the lead lap-by-lap commentator for ESPN's coverage of the Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series starting in 2007 along with Rusty Wallace and Andy Petree. Punch and Petree were joined by Dale Jarrett in 2008 and stayed together until the end of the 2009 season; ESPN replaced Punch with Marty Reid for 2010 and returned him to pit road.
In addition to his pit reporter roles, Punch served as the lead play-by-play voice for ESPN's coverage of the Craftsman Truck Series until the network lost that contract to SPEED following the 2002 season.
Brief movie career
Punch also appeared as himself as an ESPN commentator, in the 1990 film Days of Thunder, which starred Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall. Punch also acted as a technical advisor in the development of the movie.