Legendary IMS Announcer Carnegie Dies At 91
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 11, 2011: The mighty, thundering voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been silenced.
Tom Carnegie, the legendary chief announcer for the IMS Public Address system for an incredible 61 years, died Feb. 11 in the Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville. He was 91.
Carnegie served as the Public Address announcer at the Speedway from 1946-2006. He called 61 Indianapolis 500’s, 12 Brickyard 400’s and six United States Grands Prix for millions of fans at IMS.
Carnegie’s incredible baritone coined and developed such iconic phrases as, “AND HEEEEEEE’S ON IT!” “HEEEEEERE’S THE TIME AND SPEED REPORT!” and the classic “AAAAAAND, IT’S A NEEEEEW TRACK RECORD!”
It is fair to say Carnegie probably deserves more credit than any other single human being for helping build the gigantic crowds that were drawn to the track for qualifications three and four decades ago. He developed his style through the mid-1950s and pretty much had it perfected by the early 1960s, bellowing the aforementioned phrases and others to the delight of the crowd. He enjoyed tantalizing the attentive throng by “telegraphing” a track record or a spectacular speed with setup lines like, “YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT!” or, in the case of a run in which the speeds were increasing with each lap, “AAAAAAND, IT’S STILL GOING UP!”
Born in Connecticut as the son of a Baptist minister, Carnegie grew up aspiring to be an actor. But those hopes were dashed when he was stricken with polio as a student in Missouri. He turned his attention instead to the broadcasting of sporting events, and his sense of the dramatic quickly came to the fore.
After graduating from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., he landed a job in 1942 at radio station WOWO in Fort Wayne, Ind. Westinghouse in Pittsburgh owned WOWO and sister station WGL, and the station manager suggested the name Tom Carnegie would go well in the East since the name Carnegie was prominent in Pittsburgh. So Carl Kenagy – Carnegie’s birth name – became Tom Carnegie.
Fate eventually led him to radio station WIRE in Indianapolis near the end of World War II. He also wrote sports columns for the Indianapolis Star. It was while he was “emceeing” at a vintage car concourse just days before the 1946 “500” that new track president Wilbur Shaw heard his work and invited him to assist with the public address on Race Day. Carnegie accepted and kept coming back for the next six decades.
Because of his sense of the dramatic, and the fact that it had not been possible for any spectator to see completely around the massive facility, he enjoyed toying with the imagination of the IMS crowd with lines like: “WHO WILL IT BE? WHO WILL IT BE?” Or on a relatively peaceful qualifying day, while waiting to see if a driver was or was not going to raise his hand for a qualifying run, “Let’s wait and watch,” with a little singsong rise and fall to the last word. This would likely be followed up by, “Heeeeere he comes,” delivered with an upward glissando for “here” and a two-note singsong for “comes.”
Privately, Carnegie became somewhat saddened in the 1990s when virtually instant timing-and-scoring information became available to the public via computers, followed by the installation of large television screens around the track. He felt these innovations could lessen the mystique. “It’s theater,” he would philosophize, pointing up into the grandstands and then chuckling over the memories of some of his more famous calls from the days when the public was relying largely on his commentary.
Perhaps his favorite “call” came in the closing moments of the 1967 Indianapolis 500 when Parnelli Jones had to drop out with Andy Granatelli’s turbine after having led for much of the day, setting the stage for A.J. Foyt to become a three-time winner. Moments before Foyt was due to come through Turn 4 for the final time, a multi-car accident took place on the main straight, all but blocking the track. While cars were spinning in every direction – and, unknown to Carnegie, Foyt, with his incredible sixth sense, had already slowed – Carnegie was bellowing, "HE SHOULD BE COMING INTO SIGHT AT ANY MOMENT. WILL HE GET THROUGH? WILL HE GET THROUGH? WHERE IS HE? WHERE IS HE?” What followed was the triumphant, "THERE HE IS!!!"
Carnegie never really wanted to quit. But he understandably found himself tiring more easily upon entering his 80s. Realizing that the dramatic finish to the 2006 "500" would be hard to top – Sam Hornish Jr. seemingly came out of nowhere to edge young Marco Andretti at the start/finish line – Carnegie decided to call it a career in June 2006.
He would continue to come to the track as a visitor during event times and be besieged by race fans of all ages who wanted to share their memories and thank him for his contributions.
His contributions spread far beyond the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was covering qualifications for the inaugural Ontario (Calif.) 500 in 1970 for what was then WFBM-TV (now WRTV), of which he was the longtime sports director, when he was quickly pressed into service.
Carnegie actually travelled the circuit for a couple of years after that, announcing all of the United States Auto Club national championship races. He was a real friend to USAC, as well as to the Speedway, never failing to show up for any kind of press announcement over a period of many years and always willing to interview a driver on camera about an upcoming race.
He was eventually to be inducted into a variety of Halls of Fame, in the fields of both motor racing and broadcasting.
The impact of Tom Carnegie has been immeasurable, and his work will never be forgotten.
Carnegie is survived by his wife, D.J., and children Blair, Charlotte and Robert.
Services are pending.