Commentary

Gone, but never to be forgotten

Updated: February 11, 2011, 4:14 PM ET
By John Oreovicz | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Over the past six decades, the sounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway included howling four-, six- and eight-cylinder Indy car engines, roaring NASCAR stock-blocks and shrieking Formula One V-10s -- not to mention the occasional diesel or turbine powerplant.

But one constant at the Speedway since 1946 won't be back for another lap of the Brickyard. Iconic track announcer Tom Carnegie died Friday at the age of 91, truly marking the end of an era for IMS and its legion of fans.

With his crisp and distinctive baritone, Carnegie, who called his last Indianapolis 500 in 2006, was as much a part of IMS legend or tradition as any car or driver who ever competed at the famous Speedway.

"Tom was an icon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- every bit as much as the Pagoda and Gasoline Alley," said team owner Chip Ganassi. "The whole racing community mourns his passing."

Carnegie's death was not unexpected; he contracted polio at an early age, relied on a motorized scooter to get around, and was in increasingly poor health in recent years.

[+] EnlargeTom Carnegie
AP Photo/John HarrellTom Carnegie, who died Friday at 91, called his last Indy 500 in 2006.

But many of the IMS faithful were still not prepared for the eventuality of his passing.

"It's an absolute shame to lose a guy who single-handedly changed the way the Indianapolis 500 was broadcast to the world," said Indy car driver Graham Rahal, who wasn't yet born when his father Bobby Rahal's victory in the 1986 Indianapolis 500 was called by Carnegie.

Tony Hulman, who bought the Speedway in 1945 and saved the property from being redeveloped, was the face of IMS until his death in 1977.

But Carnegie was the voice of the mighty track.

Until the mid-1960s, fans could follow the Indy 500 only via closed-circuit broadcasts in theaters and, of course, on the IMS Radio Network.

For many, Carnegie's vivid descriptions of the facility and the on-track action were the only direct connection they had to the Speedway.

His calls of Indianapolis' unique four-lap qualifying runs were particularly memorable. Carnegie would open a run by vigorously stating, "And he's ON it!"

He would then describe the run corner by corner, advising fans how far the car ran from the white line marking the inside of Indy's four turns, or how close a car drifted to the wall.

With a flair for the dramatic, he would keep the audience in suspense with teases like "You won't believe it!" or "You're gonna like this one!"

Carnegie's main catchphrase, to celebrate a feat accomplished more than 60 times during his career and last occurring in 1996, was "IT'S A NEW TRACK RECORD!"

The fastest qualifying speed for the Indy 500 jumped from 134 to 236 mph during Carnegie's tenure.

People used to joke that the most famous four words at Indy were Tony Hulman's directive of "Gentlemen, start your engines!" and Carnegie's call of "And he's on it!"

But another popular variation of the joke was "Mario is slowing down!" in reference to Mario Andretti's abysmal luck at Indianapolis.

"Things kept happening to him year after year at the racetrack," Carnegie explained to USA Today upon his retirement in 2006. "Around town, they began to develop pools, where you pull out what lap I'm going to say that."

Carnegie often said that his most memorable IMS moment was A.J. Foyt's unexpected retirement on pole day 1993.

But Carnegie's life in broadcasting included much more than his duties at IMS. He was the longtime sports director for Indianapolis ABC affiliate WRTV, and he was the voice of Indiana's legendary high school basketball tournament before it was controversially split into classes.

Movie buffs will recognize Carnegie's booming vocal presence in the Indy 500-based "Winning" from 1969 and in the 1986 basketball classic "Hoosiers."

Carnegie actually called the 1954 state championship game between Milan and Muncie Central that formed the basis for "Hoosiers." That game was played at another iconic Indiana venue, Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Carnegie is enshrined in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, the Indiana Associated Press Hall of Fame and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.

But it was his work at IMS that cemented Carnegie's status, and many fans will be disappointed that he will not be around in May to assist in the call of the 100th-anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500.

"The term 'legend' is sometimes overused, but it absolutely fits Tom, one of the most beloved and renowned figures in Speedway history," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus.

"He was more than just a voice for millions of race fans. He was their voice at the track; he was one of them."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for ESPN.com.