by Kent Sterling
In 49 states, Jim Nabors is a ghost of TV past … but this is Indiana.
To those living outside Indiana, the thought of an actor without a single credit in the last 23 years being the the centerpiece of a pre-race ceremony – any pre-race ceremony – is ludicrous.
It sounds more Kokomo Raceway than Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but for people in Indiana who have listened to the guy who played Gomer Pyle on TV sing “(Back Home Again in ) Indiana,” it’s a treasured tradition.
Nabors will make the long flight from Hawaii to the Brickyard one final time for the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
As peculiar (and that is being kind) as it is, there will be a lot of tears shed in the grandstand as Nabors ends the final tradition that links the glory days of the Greatest Spectacle of Racing to the present. A.J. Foyt retired as a driver prior to the 1993 race. Tom Carnegie passed away in 2011 after serving as the public address announcer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1946 to 2006. Qualifications and race times have changed enough times that the event, minus 200 laps and 33 starters, is almost completely changed over the last decade.
Continuing a tradition for tradition sake can hamstring growth, but the quaint continuation of inviting Nabors to sing prior to the Indianapolis 500 makes race day magical. And this year the magic will sadly end.
Nabors will turn 84 in a couple of weeks, and the travel from Hawaii to Indy is a little bit too much for him. But for one more Memorial Day Weekend Sunday, a quarter of a million fans will scramble through the gate, and get to their seats in time to listen to the same voice that welcomed them when Foyt, Bobby and Al Unser, Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, and Gary Bettenhausen were the marquee names of racing’s marquee event.
Things change, but for the sporting venue where change comes most slowly, this is one that will be most unpleasant a year from now. Nabors is as big a part of the race day experience as kissing the bricks and the winner drinking milk after taking the checkered flag. It would be wonderful if it could continue forever, but that’s not the way human beings work.
If you aren’t an Indy 500 fan or from Indiana, you will shake your head in disbelief, but Nabors’ final effort will bring tears and loud cheers.
It makes no logical sense, but I cannot imagine race day without hearing Nabors sing – even when he was too ill to attend, his voice was there. I’m glad we get a chance to thank Nabors for the 40-plus years of memories that spans the life of most fans.
Race day Weather forecast is partly cloudy and a high of 80
Here is the full schedule of events for race day (including the final Nabors performance at 12:04p:
- 5:30 am – Gates Open – IMS
- 5:30 am – 2:00 pm – IMS Midway – IMS Infield
- 5:30 am – 2:00 pm – IMS Kids Zone Open – IMS
- 7 am – Snake Pit presented by Miller Lite Opens – Infield Turn 3
- 7 am – Matt Dash Performance – Snake Pit
- 8 am – Spectacle of Bands
- 8 am – 10:00 am – Dillon Francis Performance – Snake Pit
- 9:30 am – Celebrity Red Carpet – Pagoda Plaza
- 9:45 am – 500 Festival Princess Lap
- 10 am – 12:30 pm – NERVO Performance – Snake Pit
- 10:15 am – Cars Grid on Track
- 10:15 am – On the Banks of the Wabash – Performed by the Purdue University All-American Marching Band
- 10:35 am – Green Flag Delivered by Andrew Luck – Yard of Bricks
- 10:50 am – Vintage Car Laps
- 11:10 am – Military Recognition Lap
- 11:33 am – Indianapolis 500 Driver Introductions
- 11:43 am – America the Beautiful – Performed by Martina McBride
- 11:45 am – Military Address
- 11:47 am – God Bless America – Performed by Florence Henderson
- 11:49 am – Invocation
- 11:52 am – Taps
- 11:53 am – National Anthem – Performed by LeAnn Rimes
- 11:55 am – Flyover – IMS – Performed by the Black Diamond Jet Team
- 11:57 am – Drivers to Your Cars Announcement
- 12:04 pm – Back Home Again in Indiana – Performed by Jim Nabors
- 12:12 pm – 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (200 Laps)
- 12:30 pm – Hardwell Performance – Snake Pit
- 6 pm – Gates Close – IMS