Sports » Sports + Recreation

500 facts: The track and Tom Carnegie

Facts about the racecourse — and its most beloved announcer



17. An early version of the "wing and wheel" logo appeared as early as the Speedway's first motorized event.

The tickets for the Aug. 1909 motorcycle and auto races feature a graphic with a central tire flanked by two outstretched wings. The letters "IMS" are superimposed on the picture.

18. The pagoda first appeared in 1913.

The original four-tiered pagoda was razed by fire in 1925 to make room for the new pagoda, which was moved back from the track a considerable distance as speeds increased.

19. The golf course went in in 1929.

Initially, the 27-hole course (!) had nine holes inside the track.

20. The starting flag was red until 1930.

According to, "[A] green flag replaced a red one to start the 38 drivers on their 500-mile journey." Today, a red flag means a race has been stopped or suspended due to unsafe conditions.

21. Flags were used to signal caution all around the track until 1935.

That's when lights first went in to signal the drivers, yellow and green side-by side at various locations around the oval.

22. The 3.2 million bricks that originally covered IMS were paved over gradually.

The Speedway's official website says: "Asphalt gradually was added to various section of the brick surface, with patches added to rougher sections of the turns in 1936 and all turns being completely paved with asphalt in 1937. In 1938, the entire track was paved with asphalt except for the middle portion of the front straightaway."

23. An explosion and fire destroyed several garages in 1941.

On race day morning, some last minute welding sparked a blast and fire that took out a bank of garages and George Baringer's ride, a Miller that had qualified 15th.

Tom Carnegie in 2010. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Tom Carnegie in 2010.

24. Tom Carnegie became the IMS P.A. announcer in 1946.

He'd hold that position for the next 60 years.

25. In '46, Indy had zero TV stations.

And only five radio stations.

26. The single lap record in that year was held by Ralph Hepburn.

Carnegie told the fans Hepburn had turned 134.449 mph.

27. Carnegie would call 61 Indy races during his tenure.

Plus 12 Brickyard 400s and six F1 races (the U.S. Gran Prix), before he retired after the 2006 race.

28. When Carnegie called his first 500 in 1946, Harry Truman was President.

10 more men would hold that office while Tom was behind the mic. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush weren't even born when Carnegie started the gig.

29. A total of 411 drivers debuted at the IMS with Tom Carnegie announcing their names.

That's out of a total of 708 from 1911 to 2006.

30. Nothing on the track that stands today existed when Carnegie began his run.

The oldest building that still stands at the IMS is the Clarian Emergency Medical Center, which, according to the IMS website, was built in '48.

31. The original Hall of Fame Museum was at the corner of 16th and Georgetown.

"It was a single-story brick building," says the man who'd know, track historian Donald Davidson. Ground was broken for the building in 1955, and it opened in '56.

32. The 1926 pagoda was replaced with the boxy "Master Control Tower" in 1956.

The tower would stand until the end of the century.

33. The pit wall arrived in '56, too.

And new rules required cars to be pushed out of the garage and onto the track before being started.

34. Tom Carnegie called A. J. Foyt's name for the first time in 1958.

Carnegie had already called 12 races before uttering Foyt's name, and he'd call 14 more after Foyt retired.

The garage area in 1961 — green and white and made of wood.
  • The garage area in 1961 — green and white and made of wood.

35. The "Yard of Bricks" as we know it today was created in 1961.

Back to "October 1961, the remaining bricks on the front straightaway were covered with asphalt. A 36-inch strip of the original bricks was kept intact at the start/finish line, where it remains today as the fabled Yard of Bricks."

36. Although it had been around for decades, the "Snakepit" really got rowdy in the '60s.

"The bloodlines go back to the very early years," says Donald Davidson. "The grandstands were all pretty much concentrated around turn one ... if you didn't have a [grandstand] ticket, then you congregated in the infield." While there was drinking from the teens through the '50s, Davidson recalls during that the Vietnam-War era, things started getting "nasty."

37. In fact, '68 was the first year state troopers carried nightsticks into the Pit.

Davidson: "At what point it was given the name 'The Snakepit,' I don't know, but ... it took a turn."

38. The track had its first VIP suites installed for the '73 race.

The original luxury boxes — outside Turn Two — meant that IMS became the second racetrack with suites in North America (behind the Ontario Motor Speedway).

  • Courtesy of the Fasig Family
  • Foyt in '75.

39. The current Hall of Fame Museum went up in '76.

The collection outgrew the original building.

40. Tom Carnegie uttered his signature phrase "it's a new track record" five times in three minutes on May 12, 1984.

Tom Sneva set a record in his opening lap of qualifications and got faster with every lap. Sneva broke the four lap record, too, of course.

41. Al Unser Jr. owns 80 feet of Indy wall.

In 1989, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. were battling it out. Unser was able to pass Fittipaldi with three laps to go.

With two laps to go, Unser approached slow traffic. Fittipaldi closed in, and on the backstretch, pulled inside Unser. Running side-by-side in turn three, Fillipaldi drifted slightly high and the cars touched wheels. Unser spun around into the wall. 

As the yellow flag came out for the last lap, Unser stepped out of his car unhurt and walked to the edge of the track to give Fittipaldi a thumbs-up as the pace car escorted Emerson to his first Indy 500 win.

When IMS replaced the walls, Unser asked if he could have a piece. They offered better than that. He got 80 feet of the track`s historic wall — including the section in Turn Three that he plowed into after touching wheels with Fittipaldi.

The wall now stands at the entrance to the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque, a great reminder of the legacy of the Unser racing family.

— Nora Spitznogle

42. Gasoline Alley's current garages opened in 1986.

The old wooden green-and-white garages were replaced by a multimillion-dollar upgrade.

43. Pete Dye gave the "Brickyard Crossing" golf course a redesign in 1990.

Now there are only four holes inside the oval, seven through 10.

44. According to the Brickyard Crossing website, that makeover put the course in the top 100 for Golf Digest and Golfweek.

Additionally, the course hosted the "PGA Champions Tour Comfort Classic for seven years (1994-2000), the 2009 & 2015 Indiana State Open Championship and is only one of a few courses in country to Host LPGA, PGA, & Champions Tour Events."

45. Tom Carnegie called Foyt's name for the last time in 1992.

That's a 35-year run for A.J.

46. Tom Carnegie said "It's a new track record" for the last time for Indy 500 fans in 1996.

Carnegie drew out the phrase in his signature style when Arie Luyendyk marked the fastest qualifying lap in track history.

Arie Luyendyk, the "Flying Dutchman." - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Arie Luyendyk, the "Flying Dutchman."

47. When Luyendyk recorded his fastest-ever lap at 237.498 mph, it marked 50 years since Tom called the fastest lap in 1946.

Luyendyk record beat Hepburn's speed by 103 mph, and, of course, Carnegie called both attempts.

48. The current glass-and-steel pagoda was constructed as part of an improvement project that ran from 1998-2000.

The pagoda was one of many improvements that were undertaken to ready the track for F1 racing — and to improve the Speedway's facilities in general. The current building has ten levels and a flagpole that tops out at 199 feet.

49. And the road course was readied for Formula 1 in 2000.

Turn One has gone from Snakepit to bike parking and stands to turns for the road course.

50. The first portion of the "safer barrier" went in in 2002.

The impact-absorbing wall is one of many safety features introduced at IMS.

51. Larry Foyt picked up $192,305 in Tom Carnegie's last year, 2006.

That amount — lowest in the field for that race — was $76,626 less than the purse for the entire field for Tom's first race, and Hal Cole's bottom-of-the-barrel winnings in '46 was 600 bucks.

52. Tom Carnegie called the names of a lot of driver's relatives.

According to the IMS site, "At least 22 drivers Tom Carnegie called on Race Day were either the son, the grandson or a nephew of a driver who had previously competed during his tenure." And there were a LOT of Unsers in that mix.

53. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway now has more than 250,000 permanent seats.

However, the track never releases attendance figures.

54. If you ripped out the seat boards from the grandstands at IMS and laid them all end-to-end, they'd cover 99.5 miles.

That's roughly the distance between The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and French Lick.

55. The old Pressley Farm is a lot bigger now.

The bigwigs at the track tell us, "The IMS covers 1,025 acres (including the track, Brickyard Crossing Golf Course and all parking lots). The infield at the IMS covers 253 acres and the parking lots cover 750 acres."


56. The oval's so big, you could fit Vatican city inside — twice.

You might remember a Google Earth image made famous in the last few years that showed the perimeter of the track and all the landmarks that would comfortably fit inside — at once. The list includes the entire Vatican, The White House, Churchill Downs, the Rose Bowl, Liberty Island, Yankee Stadium, the Taj Mahal and the Roman Coliseum.

57. IMS is bigger than nearly all Hoosier cities on race day.

Attendance for the 500 makes the Speedway the second-largest city in Indiana one day a year.

58. The track's amenities include 17 grandstands, 26 bridges and six tunnels at the IMS.

And one actual private urinal.


59. One lap around the Speedway oval is equal to 2.5 miles.

But you knew that.

60. The banking in the turns has never changed.

Nine degrees, 12 minutes — from opening day in 1909 'til today.

61. But the bank had an extra "lip" that was removed in '35.

The lip gave cars an even steeper angle at the outer edge to help diminish the effects of centrifugal force.

62. All of the Speedway's other dimensions are just like they were in 1909, too.

The Speedway's website tells us: "The front and back straightaways are 5/8th of a mile each, with the "short chute" straightaways between Turns 1 and 2 and Turns 3 and 4 at 1/8th of a mile each. Each of the four turns is 1/4th of a mile long."


63. The famous flag logo is a couple of flags short these days.

The "flying wheel" with its crown of flags features seven flags. They include: green, which "signals the start of the practice session, qualification attempt or race and all restarts after a caution or red-flag period;" white, "displayed when the leader starts the final lap of the race. During qualifications, signals that driver has started final lap of qualification attempt; blue with a yellow diagonal stripe, "The 'passing flag,' signals slower cars to yield to faster;" checkered, which "signifies the end of the practice session, qualification attempt or race. (The race leader is declared the winner.);" red, which "signals that the race stops immediately, regardless of position of cars on the track;" black, the flag that "directs a driver to proceed to the pits on the next lap and to consult with race officials;" and yellow, the "caution flag," that "signals hazardous conditions on the track, and cars must slow immediately, maintain position and yield to track safety vehicles until the green flag is displayed. During a qualification session, a qualification attempt is halted." (All flag directives are taken from the Speedway's official site.) Two more colored signal flags have been added to the mix, the "alternating red and yellow striping flag," which "Signals that oil, water or some other substance has made the track surface slippery" and a black flag with a white cross, which is bad news for a driver: If you're waved off with that number, "officials have ceased scoring the car until further notice." The last two flags aren't represented on the classic logo.

64. IMS also boasts the largest solar farm of any sporting facility anywhere.

In 2014, sixty-eight of [the Speedway's] acres located on West 21st Street were dedicated to a solar farm, making it the largest solar farm at any sporting facility in the world. 

39,314 solar panels cover 41 acres and generate 9.0 megawatts of power — the entire state produces 93.6 megawatts of solar energy.

The power doesn't go directly back to the Speedway, although as an Indianapolis Power and Light customer, IMS may be among those using the power generated on its solar farm. All and all, the facility can power 2.700 homes. 

The surface of the solar panels is two and a half times larger than the surface of the asphalt that covers the 2.5 mile track.  

— Nora Spitznogle

65. The "Snakepit" is now an admission-only area in Turn Three.

Fewer burning cars, too.

66. Sadly, a total of 73 people have died at IMS, 42 of them drivers, 13 riding mechanics, one motorcycle racer and 17 workers or spectators.

Remember: this includes an era before even the most rudimentary safety equipment (like helmets, seatbelts, catch fencing and so on) had been introduced.


This Week's Flyers

Around the Web