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.