May 28, 2010
Indy mysteries: Why does Jim Nabors sing before every race?
By Jay Busbee (May 28, 2010)
As we approach the Indy 500, we at Yahoo! Sports are here to solve the biggest Indy mysteries. We've already brought you the inside scoop on why the winners drink milk at the end of the race, and today, we take on a tradition at the race's beginning. Got a question for us? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
Tradition is a peculiar thing, and it often leads us in some strange directions, like standing and singing in the seventh inning of a baseball game. The Indy 500 has its own traditions, and perhaps none is more head-scratching than the moment when Jim Nabors steps up to sing "Back Home Again."
Wait, Gomer Pyle is singing? Sure, he's got a lovely voice, but ... what the heck?
Turns out that Gomer — er, Jim — was the most beloved in a long line of singers who had taken on the traditional tune. Since 1946, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has played the song, following the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "Taps." Here's a sample of the lyrics:
I have always been a wand'rer Over land and sea Yet a moonbeam on the water Casts a spell o'er me A vision fair I see Again I seem to be
Back home again in Indiana, And it seems that I can see The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright, Through the sycamores for me. The new-mown hay sends all its fragrance From the fields I used to roam. When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, Then I long for my Indiana home.
Yeah, uh ... I guess I can see how that would be moving if you were from Indiana and all, but for the rest of us, boy, is that some treacly goop.
Anyway, the track brought in stars to sing the tune, just like guest artists doing the National Anthem. Mel Torme, Dinah Shore and other entertainers whose names are all but forgotten now took their turns.
Then in 1972, Jim Nabors stepped up. And nothing was ever the same again, for him or for the race.
The obvious knock on Nabors, who's from Alabama, was his "Gomer Pyle" role, where he played a bumbling military country bumpkin. But when he opened his mouth to sing, lo, the voice of an angel burst forth:
Nabors now lives in Hawaii but returns to the race almost every year he's able. In 1994, just months after undergoing a liver transplant, he attended the race, accompanied by his doctor. When he's been too ill to make the trip, as in 2007, he's appeared on video screens and encouraged the crowd to sing along. He plans to be there again this year, and there won't be a dry Indiana eye in the house.