Tom Carnegie – The Voice

This past Sunday, I was watching Rookie Orientation online. You know you’re an incurable Indy fanatic, to sit at a computer to watch Bertrand Baguette and Jay Howard chase each other around an otherwise empty track for lap after lap. Even I was getting bored with it all. Suddenly the announcer on duty announced that they were about to interview Tom Carnegie, the longtime PA voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I suddenly felt the need to sit up and straighten myself up, as if I was about to hear something special. I was. The announcer coaxed him into bellowing his two most famous catch phrases; “Heeeeee’s on it” and “It’s a newwww track rrrrecord”.

I immediately felt goose bumps and chills at the same time. I can watch the most notorious tear-jerking movie and not even flinch, but hearing that still strong voice booming over my computer speakers got to me.

Not only does the sound of that baritone voice bring back my earliest memories of the Indianapolis 500, but just stop and think of all of the history the man has witnessed. From the time the track re-opened after World War II in 1946, Tom Carnegie has been manning the trackside microphone. He was there to describe the controversial Mauri Rose victory over his teammate, Bill Holland, in the Blue Crown Special. Carnegie was on hand when Bill Vukovich won two in a row and also when Vukovich lost his life on the backstretch in pursuit of a third. He was a twelve year veteran when AJ Foyt was a rookie in 1958. He got to describe intense battles such as the Rodger Ward-Jim Rathmann duel in 1960 and the AJ Foyt-Eddie Sachs battle of 1961; along with the Gordon Johncock-Rick Mears contest in 1982 and the Al Unser, Jr.-Scott Goodyear finish ten years later.

Unfortunately, Tom Carnegie also had the grim task of delivering tragic news to the crowd – such as when he announced to a hushed crowd that Eddie Sachs had been fatally injured in the lap two crash of the 1964 race which would also take the life of rookie Dave MacDonald, later that day. Carnegie was there to see the roadster era come and go, the British Invasion, the turbines, the big wings and "the split". And he was there to interview AJ Foyt in 1993 as he took his ceremonious final lap, thirty-six years after he first appeared. Tom Carnegie was there for it all.

Carnegie’s tenure at the Speedway spanned the entire careers of icons such as Bill Vukovich, Jimmy Bryan, Rodger Ward, Mario Andretti and every Unser and Bettenhausen that ever ran. He called races that had such immortal names as Ralph Hepburn, Rex Mays, Cliff Bergere, Sam Hanks, Ted Horn, Pat O’Connor and Fred Agabashian. He saw pole speeds that ranged from a 126.471 mph to 233.718 mph (Luyendyk‘s record of 236.986 was as a second-day qualifier and therefore not a pole speed).

Tom Carnegie was born Carl Kenagy in Norwalk, CT. He was the son of a minister and his family moved around quite a bit in his childhood year, before settling in Kansas City. He graduated from William Jewel College in 1942. While in college, Carnegie was stricken by a viral infection, which caused severe weakness in his legs. Before that, Carnegie was very active in sports, but his condition forced him away from athletic competition. But his competitive spirit led him to enter various debate and speaking competitions, where he became a very accomplished speaker. During this time, he also entered and won a radio competition in sports. After graduation, he took a radio job in Fort Wayne, IN that also involved broadcasting games for the Fort Wayne Pistons.

Later he moved to Indianapolis and was announcing an antique car show, when his distinct voice caught the ear of Tony Hulman who happened to be in the crowd. Hulman asked if he would like to be the PA announcer the following May, when the track was scheduled to host its first race in five years. He did and he was trackside for the next sixty-one races.

His last race to call was the 2006 race when Sam Hornish passed Marco Andretti just before the yard of bricks on the final lap. He decided it would be a while before any race topped that one, so that would be a good note to go out on. His voice was still strong, but he was becoming more frail and it was difficult getting to the track on race morning.

Tom Carnegie is ninety years old now. While his body may ache, his mind and voice sound as clear as ever. Even though he has retired, he has made it out to the track every May and is always generous enough to take the mike for a few minutes. Suddenly that booming voice of his resonates throughout the Speedway once more, and  we are allowed to reminisce about races of yesteryear – if only for a few brief moments.

I find it fitting that no one has been named as a permanent replacement. Many share duties on the mike, but none is officially the lead PA announcer. If you had to name the main guy, I would say it is Dave Calabro – who served with Carnegie and the late Jim Phillippe for years and does an admirable job. But Calabro would be the first to tell you that he isn’t replacing Tom Carnegie. No one could do that.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Tom Carnegie – The Voice”

  1. You are right George. No one can replace Tom. You forgot to mention he was the PA announcer for the championship game in Hoosiers.

  2. Lee Robison Says:

    The two things I remember about Tom is in 1964 when he made the sad announcement the Eddie and Dave will fatally injured (His words). I remember he began, “We regret to make the following announcement.”

    The other thing came during a rain delay on race day when he said, “Let’s hear it for the Purdue University All American Band and they march to lunch.”

    My grown daughter suggested that we invent a toilet seat that when sat upon would have Tom saying… “And he’s on it.” Thanks George.

  3. I was in the press box just to the right of Tom for the finish of the Al Unser. Jr. Scott Goodyear dual but could not hear him above the roar of the engines and the crowd and didn’t know who won until Unser pulled into victory lane.
    I remember sitting with Tom on the porch of his home in Zionsville and hearing him tell the story of the red chair on his porch that was given to him by Bobby Knight.
    Tom also made the journey to Attica, IN to serve as honorary pall bearer for one of my uncles.
    Another great memory for me was when I saw Tom at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in December of 1996. He said “Hi Mark. I didn’t see you at the track this year.” That was the first year since 1966 that I had not been at the track.
    I am sure there there will be times during the rest of my life when I will look up some moment from the month of May and play the recording just to hear his voice again.
    He told me several times he wanted to make it to 60 years at the 500 but didn’t want to stay too long. He managed both.

  4. I was there last Sunday and watched from the fence as he talked on the PA. It broght back memories and a tear to my eye. One thing they probably didn’t show online was the group of pit road Yellow Shirts and other personnel who gathered around the PA table just to be close to him. They probably clapped for 30 seconds when the interview was over. It was pretty moving to say the least, and good to see that some people still appreciate the history of the Speedway.

    There will never be another Tom Carnegie, from his tradmark sayings to a booming “{click}Good MMMMmmmmoring, Race Fans!” to quirky stuff like “Al Unser, who’s very name means speed” to his tender but dreaded “It is with deepest regret that we make this announcement….”, he is part of the IMS fabric. God bless him.

  5. […] You can read the rest of George’s post here. […]

  6. Bill Freeze Says:

    Just received this interesting post from myr old friend Sarah Dean (Peck). I grew up with Sarah and we attended grade school through high school in Indianapolis. She married one of my best friends…Dr. Larry Peck and they live in Glen Ellyn out side of Chicago. When my oldest daughter Amy first went to Chicago 4 years ago to be the Chief Meteorologist for Fox news she had to leave her family behind in Philadelphia for two months. She really had no place to stay in Chicago and Larry and Sarah took her in. Now Sarah writes me that her parents did something similar 65 years ago and she has never known about it until today….Here is what Sarah send me….”Bill, my brother, David, called this AM to tell me about Tom Carnegie passing. In 1946, before I was born, and right after the war, my parents had their home on Washington Blvd. Tom Carnegie was new to town–there were NO places to stay–so he lived in the guest room–which later became my room. Small world. I never knew this until this morning! And I certainly didn’t know this when Amy stayed with us. Must run in the family, or something?”

  7. […] year, I wrote a post on Tom Carnegie. I wanted to write something about him while he was alive, and it wouldn’t be so […]

  8. The saviour and face of The Indianapolis 500 and IMS, Tony Hulman is recognized on the Borg Warner trophy with a special gold bust. It seems to me that it would be fitting for the person who gave both their voice Tom Carnegie, to be likewise remembered.

  9. Bill Freeze Says:

    Either that or rename the award The Warner-Carnegie Trophy!

  10. Scott Stine Says:

    Tom Carnegie was the one I wanted to sound like when I got into announcing years ago. Thankfully a fairly perceptive gentleman caught my arm one day and kindly instructed me that ‘there is only one Tom Carnegie, and he didn’t get where he is trying sound just like anyone else.’ Those few words probably did as much for me as hearing Carnegie’s booming tones year after year. There IS only one Tom Carnegie, just like there is only one ‘the Speedway’.

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