Mike Neff · Saturday February 12, 2011
Anyone who attended the Indianapolis 500 from 1946 through 2006 was able to listen to the dulcet tones of Tom Carnegie on the public address system. His tag line at the beginning of any qualifying run of “And he’s ON IT” or the announcement that would always bring the crowd to its feet “It’s a new track RECORD!!” are permanently etched in the minds of Indianapolis fans both young and old. Carnegie not only was the Speedway’s announcer for an incredible 61 years, he also announced Indiana high school basketball games and many other athletic events during his long and storied broadcasting career.
Carnegie was born Carl Kenagy in Norwalk, CT. His family moved to Missouri when he was a youngster and he dreamed of being an actor. Unfortunately for Carnegie he contracted polio when he was a student and that forced him to turn his attention to becoming a sports broadcaster. He graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, MO and secured a job with the huge WOWO radio station in Ft. Wayne, IN. in 1942. Westinghouse Corporation of Pittsburgh owned WOWO and its sister station WGL, the station manager felt that the name Carnegie would fly better in the East so he suggested the name Tom Carnegie. While Carl Kenagy was still his legal name at his death, he went by Carnegie for nearly 70 years.
In 1946 Carnegie worked his way to Indianapolis to work at WIRE radio and was invited to work at a vintage car concourse where then Speedway president Wilbur Shaw heard his work and invited him to help with the race broadcast as the cars were coming back to the track after the end of World War II. Carnegie did not have any race announcing experience and did not have a spotter but he knew the names and numbers and worked his way through it. Shaw and new Speedway owner Tony Hulman were so pleased with his work they invited him back and he never missed a race for the next six decades.
His race announcing career reached far well beyond Indianapolis. He was covering qualifications for the inaugural Ontario 500 in 1970 when the track owner pressed him into service announcing that race for the fans as well. That led to Carnegie travelling with the USAC Championship series for several years along with his duties as the sports director of WFBM-TV in Indianapolis.
Carnegie always enjoyed building up the moments for fans at Indianapolis which is why his tag lines were so famous. He also knew that fans could not see the whole track and would use that to his advantage, goading the fans with questions about who would lead as they came out of four and would someone be able to catch the leader in the closing laps. Probably his favorite call was when AJ Foyt was coming to the checkered flag at the end of his third 500 victory in 1967. There was a huge crash coming out of four and there were cars and debris strewn all over the front straight. Carnegie was asking, “Will he get through? He should be coming through by now. Will he make it? Will he make it?”. When Foyt appeared Carnegie belted out “THERE HE IS, THERE HE IS”.
Carnegie is a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Indiana Associated Press Hall of Fame. He called the famous Milan championship game that was the basis for the movie Hoosiers. He was given a cameo appearance in the movie thanks to that radio work. Thanks to Donald Davidson, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian, here are some interesting facts about the career of Tom Carnegie:
- Tom Carnegie called 61 of the 94 Indianapolis 500 Mile Races that have taken place, nearly two-thirds of the number of races since the inaugural event in 1911.
- There were 11 Presidents of the United States during Tom Carnegie’s tenure as IMS Public Address announcer. When he called his first “500” in 1946, Harry Truman was President. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both whom occupied the Oval Office during Carnegie’s tenure, were not alive in 1946.
- Of the 708 different drivers who started in an Indianapolis 500 through 2006, 411 of them made their debut with Tom Carnegie on the Public Address.
- Every grandstand or building seen from inside IMS was built after Tom Carnegie started his Public Address tenure in 1946. While some buildings outside the track are older, it is believed that the oldest structure one can now see from inside the track is believed to be the Clarian Emergency Medical Center, built in 1948.
- The single-lap record when Tom Carnegie debuted in 1946 was Ralph Hepburn’s 134.449 mph. Fifty years later, Arie Luyendyk recorded one at 237.498 mph, thus exceeding Hepburn’s speed by 103 mph. Carnegie called both attempts.
- The low end of prize money in 2006, Tom Carnegie’s final year, was Larry Foyt’s $192,305 for 30th place. In 1946, Carnegie’s first year, the entire purse was $115,679, while Hal Cole’s portion for 32nd was $600.
- A.J. Foyt drove in the “500” a record 35 consecutive times between 1958 and 1992. Tom Carnegie called 12 races before Foyt even arrived and another 14 after his last start.
- When Tom Carnegie first called the “500” in 1946, there were only five radio stations in town and no TV stations.
- At least 22 drivers Tom Carnegie called on Race Day have been either the son, the grandson or a nephew of a driver who had previously competed during his tenure.
- The last time fans heard Tom Carnegie bellow his famous phrase, “It’s . a . newww … track . record” came during Arie Luyendyk’s assault on the record books in May 1996. On May 12, 1984, Carnegie said it five times in less than three minutes. Tom Sneva broke the track record on his opening qualifying lap and topped it on each succeeding lap, shattering the four-lap mark in the process.
On a personal note, this writer attended every Indianapolis 500 but three from 1963 through 1994. While Carnegie’s act seemed to get a little old near the end of his tenure at the track, it was always a comforting feeling getting to the track for any of the days of racing during May and hear him come over the PA for the first time each day and say “Good Morning Race Fans!”. Being at the track from the 60s into the 90s there were numerous pole days when we got to hear the new track record call multiple times during the day. The 500 was an event from the first day of practice through the 500 and Carnegie was a part of all of it. His announcing style would build the excitement to a fever pitch on pole day, bump days and even carburetion day all leading up to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. We’re going to miss you Tom, God Speed.
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