Tom Carnegie Dead At 91
INDIANAPOLIS — One of the most recognizable voices in motorsports history is silent forever.
Famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway public address announcer Tom Carnegie died Friday morning in a Zionsville, Ind., health care facility. Carnegie was 91 years old.
Known for his deep, booming voice, Carnegie, who became Indy’s primary announcer in 1946, remained the voice of the speedway until he retired in 2007.
Originally from Missouri, Carnegie is one of the legendary voices of the Hoosier State of Indiana. He was a baseball and football star in high school before he was hospitalized for six months with polio.
After his recovery, he went to William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., and was a member of the top-ranked debate team in the country. He credited that training with giving him a dramatic voice, understanding the art of inflection.
After college, Carnegie boarded a train and headed to Fort Wayne, Ind., where he got a job at 50,000-watt stations WOWO and WGL.
“They did a lot of wonderful things,” Carnegie told National Speed Sport News in 2005. “We were constantly ad-libbing. I think that the play-by-play announcer at any radio station or television station in sports is the best ad-libber on the staff, no doubt. That gave me great background to be able to do what I do for as long as I did.”
Carnegie was a pioneer in Indiana television and was asked to be part of the public-address team at the Indianapolis 500 in 1946. His career took a dramatic change.
“I had only seen one race that was at the state fairgrounds in Illinois prior to that time,” Carnegie said. “At the Speedway, the previous announcer turned it over to me after the very first lap. He never came back and I was on the microphone for the next four and a half hours. Evidently, I pleased Tony Hulman sufficiently to have me named the chief announcer after the race and that’s where I’ve been ever since.”
Carnegie created some of the most famous phrases in the Indy 500. On qualification attempts, when a driver was about to take the green flag to begin his attempt, Carnegie would say, “Heeeeeeeee’s on it!”
In the days when speed records were part of qualifications before the IRL created a formula to keep speeds at and around 230 miles per hour, the words Indy 500 fans all loved to hear were “And it’s a new track record!”
But the most thrilling words of all come when the pace car pulls off the track coming out of the fourth turn on race day and Carnegie announced to the expectant crowd of more than 350,000 fans, “Here they come, the field of 33 … waiting for the green flag … And, there it is!”
Carnegie’s voice is also prominent in perhaps the greatest sports movie ever made — “Hoosiers.” When tiny Hickory High makes it to the championship game of the Indiana State Basketball Tournament at Butler Fieldhouse in Indianapolis in 1952, Carnegie is the voice on press row that is announcing the game. He’s also in the racing scenes at the Indianapolis 500 in the 1969 movie “Winning” starring Paul Newman.
“I thoroughly enjoyed doing that, but in the movie ‘Hoosiers,’ they wanted you to wear period dress, so I was allowed to wear what I started out with,” Carnegie remembered in 2005. “I must have been wearing the 1950s outfits in 1985.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Chairman of the Board Mari Hulman George remembered Carnegie Friday afternoon: “This is a very sad day for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and everyone worldwide who loved Tom Carnegie. Millions of race fans who never met Tom still felt as if they knew him because of his distinctive voice and his passion for the Speedway, its events and its people. Tom cared about everyone at the track, whether it was a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner or a young fan attending a practice day. He provided the soundtrack for the greatest moments of 61 years at IMS, and he never will be forgotten. Tom was a dear friend of four generations of the Hulman-George family, and we will miss him dearly.”
A longtime Zionsville resident, Carnegie is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, D.J., and their three children.
To read more about Tom Carnegie, click here.