If you're a race fan, you've likely heard Tom Carnegie's voice. He was the calm, factual-sounding voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 60 years -- from 1946 to 2006. If you ever watched the Indy 500 on TV or radio, his voice would be in the background. Certainly, if you went to the track, you were engulfed by his voice all day every day there was activity through the month of May.
Carnegie passed away earlier this month in Zionsville, Indiana, at the age of 91.
Until I heard Tom Carnegie when I first visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the early 1980s, track announcers left me cold. They either didn't know anything about the cars, track, and racing series in front of them and were there because they liked to hear themselves talk or they were over-excitable. The worst was a combination of the two.
Carnegie was neither. He delivered track times and observations about the drivers the same way Walter Cronkite delivered the news many years ago. One of the differences between these two reporters was the depth of Carnegie's voice. I can still hear him saying, "He-e-e-e-e's on it" when one of the cars was on the track and starting a qualification run.
When attending the Speedway events throughout the month of May, there was a tremendous feeling of history, of heritage. It seemed like I could feel the past -- the energy and spirit of the teams and cars of previous years. Going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was like going to Churchill Downs for a horse race. So much had taken place there that the structures became the history. You could see it in the grandstands and in the green, wooden seats. Tom Carnegie's voice was part of that heritage, as thick as the coats of paint covering the stands. His voice was history, and he was the Speedway.
Carnegie covered other sports as well. Also, he was the public address announcer during the basketball finals in the 1986 movie Hoosiers. He went to the Milwaukee Mile and to other tracks to announce, too, providing an example of decorum, sophistication, and professionalism for others to follow.
I checked out a few of the tributes and other videos about Tom Carnegie on YouTube. Search "Tom Carnegie." Most of them play his more famous lines as an announcer.
-- Ric Hawthorne