Jim Nabors to sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” for last time at 2014 Indy 500

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Ask any longtime Indianapolis 500 fan and they’ll tell you about all the traditions of the race: The rows of three, the bottle of milk, the yard of bricks.

Another beloved tradition of the ‘500’ is the pre-race singing of ‘Back Home Again in Indiana,’ by entertainer Jim Nabors. It’s a duty that Nabors first began in 1972 and it’s something he’s done every year at Indy since 1987, save for the 2007 and 2012 races that he missed due to illness.

But now, it’s been confirmed that this year’s edition of the ‘500’ will mark the last time that he’ll sing the song live at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 83-year-old Nabors, who now lives in Hawaii with his partner, has cited his health as the reason behind his decision.

“The first time that I ever sang at the Indy 500 in 1972, the warmth I got from the crowd immediately made me become a lifetime Hoosier, and I’ve always cherished it,” Nabors said in an IMS statement.

“I’ll see you all in May; but I’ve come to the conclusion that my health doesn’t permit me to travel very much anymore. So I’ll be retiring from singing ‘Back Home Again’ at the Indy 500 after this year.

“I want to give a special thanks to everyone; and particularly the Hulman-George family, who have a special place in my heart and are my wonderful friends. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Like the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” before the start of every Kentucky Derby, the performance of “Back Home Again in Indiana” is an integral part of the ‘500’ experience – and through the years, it’s allowed Nabors to become an icon of the world’s greatest race.

IMS says future plans for the performance won’t be revealed until after this year’s ‘500’. But the track has also noted that it plans to honor Nabors and his contributions.

“There are many special moments leading up to the start of the Indianapolis 500, but one of the most anticipated every year is when Jim Nabors sings ‘Back Home Again in Indiana,”’ IMS president J. Douglas Boles said in his own thoughts.

“This year will be even more special as Indianapolis 500 fans will cheer not only for what the song means but for what Jim Nabors has meant to the Indianapolis 500.”

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”