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Voice of the Institution:Tom Carnegie 1919-2011

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Tom Carnegie (Photo: IMS Photo/Ron McQueeney)
Tom Carnegie (Photo: IMS Photo/Ron McQueeney)

"His voice... is an institution..."

Those were the words that Tom Carnegie would speak every year at the Indianapolis 500 in his mellifluous, unmistakable bass voice to introduce Jim Nabors and his rendition of "Back Home Again in Indiana."

Fans in attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway rarely heard what followed, because the public address system would usually be drowned out by a raucous, full-throated cheer.

That sound - the sound of cheering - followed Tom Carnegie for many of his 91 years on this planet. It is now silenced, because Tom himself has been silenced.

"Tom Carnegie" was the professional name of a Connecticut native named Carl Kenagy, a radio broadcaster with a partially paralyzed leg and a voice that seemed gifted from the heavens (indeed, some have speculated that he never played the voice of God in commercials or films because God would have suffered by comparison). After graduating from college in 1942, he migrated to Indiana, where he got his first job with WOWO in Fort Wayne.

A voice like Carnegie's could not stay hidden forever, and in 1946 IMS owner Tony Hulman heard Carnegie announcing an antique car show and offered Carnegie a job at the Speedway announcing the annual 500-Mile Race. He would hold this enviable position for the next sixty years (twenty of which were unpaid).

When he wasn't at the Brickyard, Carnegie served as the announcer for the Indiana State High School Basketball championships. This job led to his only film role, a bit part in the classic sports movie Hoosiers as the announcer for the pivotal game between Hickory High School and South Bend.

His enduring fame, however, came not from his 15 seconds of fame on celluloid, but from the unforgettable phrases he coined over the course of six decades at Indy. No IndyCar fan older than a teenager will ever be able to think of Indianapolis 500 qualifications without thinking of Carnegie. As each car took the green flag for their timed run, Carnegie would announce the fact by saying, "Annnnnd he's ON IT!" No "Boogity boogity boogity" could ever compare to the chills inspired by those words. But they paled in comparison to the words every fan hoped to hear at the end of the run: "It's a new track record!"

Carnegie's passing is perhaps not surprising given his advanced age, and five years have passed since he gave up microphone at Indy. But for many of us who love the sport and the 500-Mile Race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will forever echo with Carnegie's deep, mellow voice. It defines the track every iota as much as the bricks at the start/finish line.

His voice was - and forever will be - an institution.