INDIANAPOLIS – A.J. Foyt lost a friend Friday. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway lost an icon.
Tom Carnegie, the veteran broadcaster who was best-known to generations as the voice of the Indianapolis 500, died Friday at his Indianapolis home following an illness, according to former employer WRTV. He was 91.
It may never be the same at the track.
"I know a lot of people that work there, at the speedway, and they do a good job, but you only have one Tom Carnegie," Foyt told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It's kind of like Bobby Knight in basketball. There's only Bobby Knight and there will never be another one. Or like Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt."
The NBA's Pacers honored Carnegie with a moment of silence before Friday night's game against Minnesota.
Carnegie's deep, bellowing voice boomed over the public address system and it became one of the track's trademark features.
Fans and reporters alike often could be heard calling out Carnegie's catch-phrases: "Heeeeez-on-it!" for the start of qualifying runs and "It's a new track record!"
Over the years, Carnegie's signature lines became part of track lexicon. What drivers and fans will remember most are Carnegie's simple, succinct calls.
"I remember in the big wreck in turn four, and he said, 'Where's A.J.? Where's A.J.? Here he comes,'" said Foyt, who counted the 1967 victory as one of his record four 500 wins. "I guess he made a great impression on a lot of people because a lot of people told me later that, 'He scared us to death.'"
Carnegie was nimble enough to navigate through the changing broadcast landscape.
He started his career in radio, when that medium was big, and later worked as a sportscaster for three decades at WRTV. He retired from WRTV in 1985, but continued working at the speedway until 2006.
"Tom Carnegie was a true gentleman and a legend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and throughout the state of Indiana," Roger Penske said in a statement. "For so many years, his unmistakable voice signified the beginning of the month of May and the Indianapolis 500. We will certainly miss Tom and his spirit, his unique style of announcing and his passion for racing."
Carnegie was born in Norwalk, Conn., as Carl Kenagy, which was still his legal name. He moved with his family to Missouri as a youngster. His interest in sports shifted to announcing after he was stricken with polio, and he began preparing himself in high school by entering every speech contest he could.
He began his radio career in 1942 at WOWO in Fort Wayne, where he took the name Tom Carnegie — the station manager thought it sounded better on air. Three years later, he moved to Indianapolis, where he became sports director at radio station WIRE and wrote a column for The Indianapolis Star.
In 1946, he met Speedway owner Tony Hulman, who had just bought and renovated the dilapidated track that had been idle during World War II. He hired the young broadcaster, who at the time knew nothing about auto racing.
"Millions of race fans who never met Tom still felt as if they knew him because of his distinctive voice and his passion for the Speedway, its events and its people," speedway chairwoman Mari Hulman George said in a statement. "Tom cared about everyone at the track, whether it was a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner or a young fan attending a practice day."
Carnegie's career also traced the evolution of the sport, from the front-engine roadsters of the 1940s to today's sleek rear-engine, high-tech racers. When he started, women weren't even allowed in the pits; by the time he retired, Danica Patrick had led the race. And the speedway expanded from one race per year to three.
WRTV, then WFBM, hired Carnegie as sports director in 1953. During his tenure as a sportscaster, he traveled to Japan and Mexico to cover the Olympics, and was on the public address system when underdog Milan High School famously won the Indiana state high school championship in 1954, which led to a cameo in the movie "Hoosiers."
But his personality, not his accomplishments, were what made Carnegie popular.
"I still have a tape of my qualifying lap at Indy during my rookie year when I broke the track record, and it's his voice and his words that helped make that moment so special," said NASCAR star Tony Stewart, who has participated in five Indianapolis 500s.
Carnegie became such a big celebrity he even got the Foyts and Andrettis to agree on something.
"Tom was one of a kind and was as much a part of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 as the yard of bricks," Michael Andretti said. "Even though he is gone, I think you'll always hear his voice when you think of the Speedway or the 500. He was the voice for so many great moments in the history of that place and he will never be replaced. He was the best."