Jim Nabors never raced in the Indianapolis 500, but was an inextricable and unmatched golden part of the event for decades.
The longtime singer of “Back Home Again in Indiana” signed off the mic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the final time in 2014.
Nabors died Thursday at age 87 in his Hawaii home. He had been battling health issues for several years.
A statement from the Hulman-George family, owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, about Nabors is below:
“Jim Nabors was such a kind, caring man, and we will miss him greatly. Jim was born in Alabama, but he became a Hoosier to all of us almost immediately after he began his superb performances of ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ starting in 1972. He loved coming back home to the Speedway almost every May for more than 40 years and seeing his friends and race fans, who loved him dearly. Jim was not only a treasured friend, but truly a cherished member of our family. We will never forget his genuine kindness, sincerity and loyalty. He was a wonderful man who inspired millions of people across the globe every May and throughout his entire life.”
The concept of the actor, most famous for playing Gomer Pyle both on The Andy Griffith Show and later the spin-off, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., then singing the song in advance of the race was a strange one at first, but quickly became an institution.
Nabors sang the song a total of 36 times from 1972 through 2014. His final rendition is below, shared via Jake Query, Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network broadcaster and occasional NBCSN Indy Lights host.
Via @DoctorIndy, here’s his first rendition from 1972.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles called Nabors’ rendition “the best 90 seconds of the year for many of our fans.”
Heartbroken. Jim was as much a part of @IMS & the 500 as every driver that has competed here. His performances of Back Home Again in Indiana on race day every year were the best 90 seconds of the year for many of our fans! Not born here, but a true Hoosier. https://t.co/ThTuqyxvzV
Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”
The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.
“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.