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.