2004 Indianapolis 500 Media Tour Transcript Wednesday, March 24, 2004 Indianapolis Motor Speedway Public Address Announcer Tom Carnegie Part 1 of 2 MODERATOR: Certainly, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 is all about the...
2004 Indianapolis 500 Media Tour Transcript
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Public Address Announcer Tom Carnegie
Part 1 of 2
MODERATOR: Certainly, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy 500 is all about the sites of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," but for a radio guy like me it's all about the sounds. There have been so many things that have changed since Tony (Hulman) built this track in the mid '40s, but the one thing that has not changed is this man. The real voice of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tom Carnegie has been here since 1946 doing every event, and I don't know what it would be like to come to the Speedway on one of those warm May mornings and not hear that, "good morning, race fans," to start the day. But it's great to have you here, great to be able to spend some time with you. Before we open it up for questions, maybe your general thoughts on how you get yourself ready for another Indy 500, what do you do to prepare for the race?
TOM CARNEGIE: First of all, you love the sport. So you keep up to date on everything that happens, 365 days a year. So really, getting ready for the 500 has been done starting with the previous race. I'm always up to date. I never sit down and really study for any particular day at the track. It's just a matter of assimilation and staying with my favorite sport of mine, and all through the year, I work on it.
MODERATOR: When you started here at the Speedway, and you have I have talked about this, you were not the biggest of race fans, you didn't know a lot about racing. When you first started, did you have any idea in the back of your mind that this could being as big a part of your life as it has become?
CARNEGIE: Absolutely not. When I started, I really had no idea. I had only seen championship racing. I had seen only one race that was at the State Fairgrounds in Illinois prior to that time, Rex Mays and the gang competing, and all of a sudden I was pulled into this situation. The previous announcer turned it over to me on the very first lap, and I had done football games, and I had just figured names and numbers would get me through, and evidently that's what did. I went from the top of the old Pagoda, and you had to have a swivel neck in order to see anything that was going on. There was no help at all. The only thing they had was the driver's ward, and I was able to look down and see who they thought were the first five, always. Evidently, I pleased Tony (Hulman) and the general manager of the track sufficiently to have me named the chief announcer after that race, and that's where I've been ever since.
MODERATOR: You've become an icon, obviously, when it comes to this track, not just for the 500 but obviously the U.S. Grand Prix and the Brickyard 400. I'm curious how you came up with "And he's on it," and "It's a new track record," seems obvious but the first time you said, "And he's on it" where did that come from?
CARNEGIE: I really don't know. That doesn't take a great deal of thought to figure out that sequence (Laughter) - that sequence of words. Really, what happened I think is that I probably used it several times, and then somebody said to me, "Hey, you remember when you said, 'And he's on it,'" they sort of liked that. And I reserve that for just the Indianapolis 500, until last year, the Brickyard 400 went on the very first qualification, they give me the signal that there's a new track record, and I forgot myself. So I said it, "You know, it's a new track record and he's on it," and I just cut loose and did the whole bit. So I use it for everybody now.
Q: After all of these years, can you single out one or a small number of things that really give you a thrill, the goose-bump kind of thrill?
CARNEGIE: Well, yes, I can figure out several things. If you're talking goose bumps, they all know my engines rank right up there in that No. 1 position when they go down that straightaway. Goose bumps, yes, 1967 when A.J. Foyt involved in a multi-car accident or he avoided one up in the fourth turn on his final lap of the race. He was on the white flag lap, had the winning position all shored up and then that happened. I'm yelling: "Where is he, where is he?" I couldn't see him, you know, and then you finally see him crawling out. I think I said, "Here he is, here he is," or "There he is," something like that. And I like to repeat things so everybody can hear it. To me it's not a radio broadcast or a television broadcast on the public address system. You repeat because you've got speakers two and a half miles around this track, and I would repeat things and still do. Like "A.J. Foyt is No. 1, No. 1 is now A.J. Foyt, and Foyt's in front," things like that, so that it makes sure, the important thing is to know what's going on. That would be one. I think another one was the finish between Gordon Johncock 1982 and Rick Mears. That was true theater. To me, what I do is sort of master of ceremonies, and what the P.A. does is sort of a master of ceremonies. And so when you get the audience standing for 10 laps, that's a thrill right away. And everybody was up for the last 10 minutes, it was 10 seconds apart, then eight, then seven, then six and then finally a very close finish, and obviously I didn't know who won. Couldn't tell for sure. I know there was a great finish, and I just can't let it end there. I've got to make some big statement and so I said, "And it's the closest finish in the history of the Speedway." Well, I called over to timing and scoring and had George King do it and he said they don't keep track of things like that. (Laughter). I said to George, "Well, how does 16-hundredths of a second sound to you?" He said, "Sounds good to me." "Ladies and gentlemen, it's a new track record, 16 hundredths of a second." And I go on and on. I couldn't let it just die, you know, saying that's pretty good. I knew that I had set a new speed record the next day when the Indianapolis Star came out with headlines that Johncock wins by 16-hundredths of a second, so I've always been proud of that record. (Laughter).Then 10 years later, here is Al Unser Jr., has the race all wrapped up in 1992 and coming out of the fourth turn, all of a sudden out of nowhere comes that scoundrel Scott Goodyear, and he got some jet propulsion somewhere and almost caught him at the finish line, and I didn't know - I didn't have any idea who won, it that's that close, and finally timing and scoring announced that the winner was Al Unser Jr. And I'm going on about that. I knew it had to be close. Then comes the disturbing news that there was a new track record of 43-thousandths of a second. My record was gone. I said to George, I said, "You know, if we would have just known this was going to happen, we could have set a record for all-time 10 years ago." So reluctantly I said 43-thousandths of a second that day, and I wasn't near as excited about it as I was with the 16-hundredths of a second.
MODERATOR: Thanks to you, we knew the 43-thousandths, you kind of started it, as far as the finishes, keeping track there at the finish.
CARNEGIE: I started out there in 1946 and I knew that, you know we used to have one car on the winning lap and then two, that was really exciting.
Q: Could you reflect on the changes to the Speedway and the city itself during your tenure as the chief announcer?
CARNEGIE: In the first place, I found it unbelievable that there was an Indianapolis Motor Speedway of this size just within a few blocks of downtown Indianapolis. That indicates that this was pastureland for a long, long time. My reaction to it - was that your question, the early days or what?
Q: The changes since then.
CARNEGIE: Well, first of all, I couldn't believe they were going to get the race underway, but they did in 1946, and Tony Hulman was so happy that day. I don't know how I got out here, I think I got in an he is sort down from the athletic club and came out with police - AAA was sanctioning it then and I was here. I knew there was a big race when Blondie Afton, sports editor of the Indianapolis Star, arrived at halftime, halfway through the race, and blamed it on traffic. So I knew it was off to a great start. Since then I've come by train to the track, and now I stay in the motel here on the grounds. The changes are fantastic. Obviously, the facility is loved, loved by the Hulman-George family, and that's what impresses me so very, very much now is the care that they devote to this facility because it's a care that indicates this is going to be here for all time if that family has anything to say about it. Most organizations, you've got to show a profit on this event or that event - for example, just in my time, this last year, they finished a complete revision of the public address system, and they have increased the power from - about the only facts I know - 16,000 watts to 373,000 watts. Now, look at that. Now that's looking to the future, and that's what I notice. As the stands are constructed, our stands are reconstructed like they have done on Turn No. 1 this past year. And then to see across the street on 16th Street, the old motel is gone and the Steak 'N Shake, regrettably, and then the American Hard Clay (company) is gone. It's all indicating - and Georgetown Apartment is gone on the north end. It's all indicating that it's not done for tomorrow or the next day, but it's done for the future. That's what I'm very happy about. Then, of course, the prize fund is fantastic. When I started, it was $115,000. Now it's around $9 million.
Q: You've met so many of us and so many of them, who is the most memorable character you ever met that you can remember at this racetrack?
CARNEGIE: Well, that would a A.J. Foyt. Yeah. I was so frightened of him - (Laughter) - in the early days, and I worked for a television station, and I wanted to go down to Houston and do a show with him. I was so frightened of him that I found out what church, what minister he liked. That minister happened to be a pilot. And so, I talked him into flying me to Houston to do my very first interview, and that worked. I've been a friend of his ever since; I've been to his farm several times, all of that sort of thing. But he still frightens me. (Laughter). You know, if I go and want to talk to him, I don't just step right up. I see how he's treating other people for a while. (Laughter) and if he's fired up and bombastic that day, I ain't talking to him. (Laughter). But he is my No. 1 character. And to think that it will just be a couple of years when he'll be here at 50 years, and that's a press conference I'd like to attend. When they - I remember one day when was still driving and on the television, they had just completed - or he came within a couple of laps of completing 10,000 miles on the track. The announcer who had never known A.J. Foyt or his reaction, stupidly asked him, "How do you feel about not reaching 10,000 miles?" He said, big deal, and just went off. He said more than that. (Laughter). Remember one time at the Hoosier 100, I used to announce that. I don't announce that anymore; haven't for a while. We had a great race one year, and I'm doing it, you know, Al Bloemker was the public relations man and going on and gone, and Al Bloemker leans over and says, "Tony Hulman was about to say, 'Gentleman start your engines.' Tell all of those people to get the hell out of the pits." "Attention in the pit area, if you do not have a pits pass, leave immediately." (Laughter). I no longer announce that race.
Q: You and all of the guys who are on the P.A. crew, you all come from strong radio backgrounds?
CARNEGIE: That's right.