Personal Memories Of Tom Carnegie
We all knew this was coming, probably sooner than later. Yet, when I learned Friday that Tom Carnegie had passed away – it was much more of a shock to my system than I thought it would be. I was probably one of the last to find out about it. I was on a five-minute break during one of those all-day Friday meetings at work. I went into my office, checked my e-mail and read the news. Without time to do anything other than e-mail the news to both of my brothers, I returned to the meeting about budgets and procedures.
I found myself more upset than I thought I would be. When someone passes away at the age of 91, you generally smile and say something trite like “…well, he had a full life”. Instead, I felt like I had lost a member of my family. I saw on Twitter where Curt Cavin said that "…even though Tom Carnegie was great on the PA, he was an even nicer man. He treated me like a grandson". Well said.
Last 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 much a tribute or an obituary. I went back and read it over the weekend and I still marvel at all of the historic moments that his eyes witnessed. He saw both incarnations of the Novi, the front-drive as well as the Novi of the early sixties. He called races that invoked the regal names of Mauri Rose, Ralph Hepburn, Rex Mays, Bill Vukovich and Pat O’ Connor. He was there when AJ Foyt was a rookie in 1958. He was also holding the microphone when Foyt tearfully announced his retirement in 1993.
Tom Carnegie was the one that informed the crowd of the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. He was there at my first Indianapolis 500, calling the race that saw the first rear-engine car take the checkered flag with Jim Clark behind the wheel. Of the ninety-four Indianapolis 500’s that have taken place, Tom Carnegie was behind the microphone for all but thirty-three of them – which includes the past four races.
Many eloquent tributes have been written in the past few days. Many have told his story and given point-by-point accounts of his life. I’m not going to rehash what others have said. What’s the point? I couldn’t do it as well as they have and if I could, it would be repetitious anyway.
Instead, I’ll share the memory of Tom Carnegie that is most special to me. The year was 1992. I had been to the Indianapolis 500 seven times as a kid. From 1965 through 1972, I went with my family to qualifying and race day almost every year (except 1966, when my father took my uncle and grandfather). I grew up in pretty much a “Leave It To Beaver” household. Today, I almost find myself apologizing for the fact that I had a very happy childhood – because I’ve found that so many people didn’t. A big part of those childhood memories revolved around the Indianapolis 500.
After a twenty-year absence, I returned to the Speedway in 1992. When my (then) wife and I parked in the infield on race day and got out of the car – it was freezing. It was a cold, damp morning. Even the usual infield crowd was subdued. They were more concerned with staying warm, than having the usual 8:00 am cocktail. As we stood there shivering, wondering whether we should head for our seats or get back in the warm car – suddenly this booming voice came over the PA system. As Tom Carnegie welcomed us on behalf of the Hulman-George family, a swirl of childhood memories overcame me. I felt like it was 1967 again and I was eight years old.
At once, my chill went away. Much to my wife’s dismay, I couldn’t get to our seats fast enough. We weren’t prepared for the cold. I was lucky to have packed a pair of jeans, much less a heavy coat. Unless you were there, it’s hard to convey just how cold it was that day. But we sat in our seats in the Tower Terrace, just south of the starting line, the entire morning. We watched the cars moved to their individual pits and then to the starting grid. With my wife being bored to death and relentlessly reminding me how cold she was, we watched all the drivers and car owners parade in front of us. I was in heaven while I was taking it all in. But what amazed me was how every time Tom Carnegie’s voice echoed through the speakers, telling us whatever was going on, it seemed like I had never been away from that place.
When he retired after the 2006 race, it wasn’t quite the same. I think Dave Calabro does a great job, especially considering the shoes he is filling. There is really no one who could have done a better job – except for Tom Carnegie. But Dave was a good friend of Tom Carnegie and was always gracious enough to share the mic with Mr. Carnegie, whenever he was around and willing to share a few words.
I saw Tom Carnegie race day morning last year. He was in his wheel chair looking rather frail, but was always smiling as he was surrounded by a throng of well-wishers. But when they put him on the microphone to say a few words, the voice was as strong as ever. It was eighteen years since that frigid day in 1992, yet it still brought back those memories – and the memories of when I was a little boy being captivated by what I was seeing and hearing.
Now those melodic vocal chords have been silenced forever. It saddens me that I won’t hear that majestic voice this May, or ever again. We’ve all lost a major link to the historic past and our own personal past. We all knew this was coming, but it still stings nonetheless. He will be missed.