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Friends, fans celebrate Carnegie's wonderful life, legacy

"No one will ever be able to fill his shoes"
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

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Tom Carnegie in 1988
He had a voice larger than life and became as much a part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the famed Yard of Bricks, but Tom Carnegie was one of us, a friendly, caring man of the people.

That was the common theme throughout a host of tributes paid Feb. 15 during a celebration of the life of Carnegie, the longtime IMS Public Address announcer who died Feb. 11 at age 91.

An overflow crowd packed the IMS Hall of Fame Museum for the ceremony honoring Carnegie, who served as the Public Address announcer at IMS for 61 consecutive years, from 1946-2006. He called 61 Indianapolis 500's, 12 Brickyard 400's and six United States Grands Prix for millions of fans at IMS.

Indianapolis television sports anchor Dave Calabro served as host of the ceremony. Calabro worked for many years on the public address at IMS with Carnegie and leads the announcing team today.

Dave Calabro talks about Carnegie
"Tom Carnegie, for him it wasn't about coming into this Museum and saying: 'Oh, that's the Maserati. That's the turbo BR858,'" Calabro said. "Tom Carnegie was about people. Tom was about the men and women who sacrificed their lives and worked on these machines and dreamed and had visions about how they would conquer the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"That's what Tom Carnegie was about. He loved people."

Members of Carnegie's family, including two of his children, attended the ceremony.

Speakers sharing memories, anecdotes and laughs about Carnegie's wonderful life included Nancy and Josie George, Indianapolis Motor Speedway board members; Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and CEO; Donald Davidson, Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian, Charlie Walker, a longtime colleague and friend of Carnegie on the IMS Public Address staff; and Indianapolis 500 veteran drivers Johnny Parsons, Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter. Bob Hills, chaplain and director of INDYCAR Ministry, began the service with a prayer.

One of the most poignant moments of the 35-minute ceremony came when Walker led the crowd to recite one of the most famous phrases carried across the IMS Public Address by Carnegie's rich, instantly recognizable baritone: "IT'S A NEW . TRACK . RECORD!"

Davidson, who worked with Carnegie for more than 40 years, also shared his memories of many of Carnegie's famous calls.

"All the phrases we've come to know and love, they weren't scripted," Davidson said. "He developed them himself. It was just off the top of his head.

"I thought how amazing it was that this voice that the people know and love and rely on year after year, that just on the first qualifying day, at around a quarter to eight, you'd hear a click and then a hum, and then you'd hear the voice say, 'TESTING, 1-2-3. GOOD MORNING, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,' and the place would just erupt! I thought, 'Carnegie could stir the place up with a sound check.'"

That voice, and the man behind it, left an indelible legacy on the Indianapolis 500, Davidson said.

"I think Tom Carnegie, more than any other single human being, is responsible for building up the qualification days, adding excitement to it for the race," Davidson said. "Thank you, Tom Carnegie."

Nancy George affectionately shared an anecdote about how she and her brother and sisters would ride their bikes around IMS as children, pretending they were race drivers. But one of the George children always played Carnegie's role as Public Address announcer.

"If there was ever a movie made, he would have to be God," Nancy George said. "He just had that presence that was coming out of the speakers around the track, and everyone would think of him as part of the family. And he was."

An area celebrating Carnegie's life will be available through Monday, Feb. 28 in the Museum for fans to leave cards, notes and other tributes.

"Tom was a wonderful man," Josie George said. "Sixty-one years: I think we can say today that was a new track record that will not be beat.

"I don't think that we'll ever be able to contribute to what he has contributed over the years. To think that he's the last of the 1940s group of men that came together and really branded this place. We still benefit from all of their contributions, but I don't think we would have gotten through the last couple of decades as well as we did without Tom being present and providing that continuity.

"No one will ever be able to fill his shoes."

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