Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tom Carnegie, 1919-2011

Like everyone else, I was very stunned by the news of the passing of Tom Carnegie today at the age of 91. It's a sad day for the Indy 500, as yet another one of the Speedway's greats has left us.

Though I never met Tom, like everyone else I always felt like he was my friend. His way of announcing what was happening on the track had that style. It was like he was talking to each of us individually, not as part of a mass that on race day numbered into the hundreds of thousands.
Tom had once dreamed of becoming an actor, and it was with that sort of flair that he called the action. Helio Castroneves referred to Tom on his Twitter account today as a "narrator". I think that is a perfect word to describe Tom's role, as he was the soundtrack to 61 years of racing history.

When I went to the Speedway for the first time in 1979, there were no video boards or electronics anywhere around the track other than the scoring pylon. And like today you couldn't see the cars go all away around.

So it was up to Tom to provide the information and the color to what was going on, and that was what made him special. His use of words to draw a picture of what was happening was a pure joy to listen to. His booming voice and his dramatic timing was always a perfect compliment to what was going on in front of him, and took some of the greatest moments racing has ever seen to an even higher level. What made it even better was that he had a love for the 500 and what he was doing, and that came through loud and clear through the public address system.

I bet I spent at least 50 days at the Speedway during Tom's time there and the man never seemed to have an off day. Even as he got up in age he seemed to draw an energy from the place and time and again deliver a wonderful performance. I don't say "performance" in an ESPN, drop catchphrases and draw attention to yourself sort of way, because it was never like that. Despite his booming voice and recognizable phrases, Tom never tried to be bigger than whatever it was that he was calling. It's probably because we shared in his enthusiasm and passion, so his calls just made those memorable moments better. I'm sure that's the way he wanted it, because I don't think the man had a single drop of ego.

Though he never drove a lap in actual competition, Tom is a Speedway icon. His called his first race in 1946, so he was part of the rebirth of the 500 as a worldwide event, and his work continued until he retired after the 2006 race, going out having called the finish of the only last-lap pass for the win in the race's history. His voice is a part of the tradition of the Speedway and always will be.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely. Tom was of a classic style; he knew the events of the day didn't need to be overhyped. He let the story tell itself through him.

    RIP, Tom. We love you and miss you.