by Kent Sterling
There are moments in sports that are magical. For people who have never been to the Indianapolis 500 they just don’t get it, but Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” is at the top of the list.
The Indianapolis 500 isn’t just a race, it’s a celebration of speed, tradition, and the Hoosier State’s way of life, and for some reason this former actor and singer from Alabama fits. His rendition of the song written by Ballard MacDonald and James Hanley is the gold standard, and imaging a May without it is impossible.
I have friends who could never tell you the winner of last year’s 500 mile race, but they sure know that Nabors sings “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race.
When traffic is tough to navigate quickly heading into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the goal isn’t to get to our seats by the time the green flag drops – it’s to hear Nabors sing. It can be argued that Nabors has become as big a part of the Indy 500 as the race itself.
Explaining that to people outside of Indiana is impossible. Even people who watched Nabors on “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle, USMC” in the 1960s are surprised by three things – that he is still alive, that he is invited back to Indianapolis each year, and that anyone cares. They don’t get it, and unless they attend the world’s biggest single day sporting event, they never will.
Somehow, Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” is THE special moment of the day for the 200,000-plus in attendance. It’s simultaneously celebratory and more than a little solemn.
There is something very special about Nabors singing that song. It sounds like home. And as silly as it sounds, there will be tears streaming down the faces of thousands on May 25th when Nabors hits that last note, and the last link to the greatness of those sweet race day afternoons of our youth says goodbye for the last time.
Three years ago, Tom Carnegie passed away, and now Nabors is retiring. Things change. That’s life. I’m glad Hoosiers have one more chance to hear Nabors sing about Indiana. It’s every bit a part of the fabric of race day as the cars, jug of milk for the winner, and a window over Terre Haute. It’s the best remaining tradition of the Month of May, and this victory lap for Nabors gives race fans and Hoosiers one more chance to thank him.
That the vast majority of Americans don’t get it is just fine. We do, and that is all that will matter come race day, and our understanding exactly how special it is will make us very lucky on race day.