Friday, June 09, 2006

So Long, Tom

The end of an area was announced earlier this week, when Tom Carnegie informed Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George that he has manned the microphone for his final Indianapolis 500. The 86-year-old Carnegie has worked 61 consecutive editions of “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” and his melodious baritone is as much a part of the month of May in Indiana as Carburetion Day and the Borg Warner Trophy.

A pair of artificial hips -- and as many artificial knees – did little to slow him down over the years. But while he has agreed to continue making cameo appearances at the Speedway in the future, Carnegie says his days of working regular shifts are over. “It’s time to finish on top,” he said. “I had a good year. I felt good on race day, and it’s time to move on.”

Carnegie was hired by George’s grandfather -- the late Tony Hulman -- in 1946, and called his first 500 that year. Prior to that, he had seen only one automobile race, and told us in a remarkable 2004 “Sirius Speedway Legends” interview that it took him the better part of a decade to become comfortable with the job. It took much less time for race fans to take Carnegie into their hearts. At the helm of the world's most powerful public address system -- 317,000 watts and 341 speakers – Carnegie turned simple phrases like, “It’s a neeeew traaack record,” and “Heeee’s on it,” into auto racing anthems.

He learned early not to get too close to the men who raced at Indianapolis. The winner of Carnegie's first Indy 500, George Robson, was killed just a few weeks later at a race in Georgia, and Carnegie’s close friend Jimmy Clark died in a crash in Germany. A tragic month of May in 1973 solidified his resolve, as Art Pollard was killed in qualifying, followed by a pair of horrifying race day crashes. The first left Salt Walther with severe burns and injured 13 spectators, while the second left Swede Savage with injuries that took his life a month later. Compounding the tragedy, an emergency vehicle en route to Savage's crash, struck and killed a crewman in the infield.

"I gave eulogies at two drivers' funerals that year," recalled Carnegie, "and that was when I determined that I just couldn't get too close."

The term “legend” is often overused, but in Carnegie’s case, the term applies. His name and voice are recognized by thousands of Indiana residents who have never set foot in the Brickyard, due to his decades of broadcast the Indiana State High School Basketball Championships. He was voted into the Indiana Basketball Hall Of Fame; an honor he accepted with his customary grace and humility.

Commenting on his six decades at the Brickyard, Carnegie said recently, “It is sort of a long time. You look back and say, 'My gosh, how did that happen?' But it's been easy. It's been inspired by my love of the race, and the love of the people who've been here all these 60 years. I appreciate the attitude of the Hulman-George family, and all the fans. And after 50 years, it began to be important!"

Tom Carnegie is truly one of a kind, and his presence will be missed when the Indy Cars come home to Indianapolis Motor Speedway next May.

Thanks for the memories, Tom. And Godspeed.

2 comments:

  1. Dave, You are so right about Tom being such a big part of the whole Indy scene. We all will miss him as we missed Sid Collins on the radio.

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  2. Dave, burnt an intake valve in my truck so I have been out of the loop for two weeks, amazing how much stuff go's down. Not having been to INDY in the month of May I have not had the fortune of hearing Tom do his thing. There are others like myself that were never able to hear Tom's call in person, but we all have our "Tom's". Mine are Al Shaver, radio voice of the Minnesota North Stars. As a kid I would tape the games only to get caught listening the next day in school. Pat Foley, radio voice of the Chicago Blackhawks. Dave Mclelland(hope I didn't butcher Dave's last name) Steve Evans, and Brock Yates were as much a part of the NHRA as Big Daddy, The Snake, Bob Glidden, Shirley Mulldowny or countless others in the sport. They knew how to bring the race to us in a knowlegable an interesting manner, not talking down to us, but with us and getting the story of the days events. And finally Bob Casey, former PA announcer for the Twins introducing Kirby Pucket. More and more the new breed of broadcaster is looking to insert themselves into the game or race instead of painting a mental picture and bringing the race or game to us. Tom and the above mentioned have that "IT". I dont know what exactly "IT" is, but we all know when we hear them paint the picture for us. They were not worried about getting on the "call of the day" on sports center. They were just doing what they love to do. Tom will be missed by race fans. It is nice to see him go out on his terms and even more it shows the class and respect for the "500" that comes from a broadcaster of Tom's caliber that he waited til after May to announce his retirement. What, no salute to you, me, and us buy my stuff last grab for cash tour? How refreshing. Thank you Tom for all the memories. Thank you to all of our own pesonal "Tom's" out there.

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