Jim Nabors was a legend during his more than 40 years as the opener for the Indy 500, a job he loved and took great pride in. Nabors announced his retirement from that role recently and spoke to reporters about it:
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t want to stay too long at the fair. Everyone has been so incredible to me so many years. The first time I was here was 1972, so I guess most people have grown up with me,” he said.
Jim Nabors has been more than just a permanent fixture at the Indy 500, having reached an almost iconic status there. Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles spoke about just how important Jim Nabors’ job was at the races:
“To many Indianapolis 500 fans the pre-race pageantry is as important as the race itself, especially as the lead-up reaches its highest point with Jim Nabors singing ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ and Mari Hulman-George giving the command to start engines.”
The story is an interesting one, as Nabors was invited to the Indy 500 by Bill Harrah for the first time and was only supposed to be there as a fan. When Tony Hulman saw Nabors at the Indy he asked him if he would sing with the Purdue marching band before the race.
In Jim Nabors’ own words:
“So to the conductor of the Purdue band, I said, ‘What key do you do this in?’ And he looked at me funny and said, ‘We only have one key.’ I said, ‘No, the “Star-Spangled Banner” has two keys.’ And he said, ‘You’re not singing that!’ And I said, ‘Well, what the hell am I singing?’ It was only five minutes to race time, too, and there’s 500,000 people here,” he said.
But more than just a few Nabors fans were sad that he was retiring. Cindy Fiddler, a 58-year-old from Houston who was at her first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway said: ”It’s really sad because it’s like a tradition that’s now died, it’s gone.”
Another avid Jim Nabors fan also expressed his disappointment at the news of Nabors’ retirement. Bob Curtner, an 82-year-old from Sidney, Ohio, said: ”That’s going to be very sad when he’s not here anymore to sing that because everybody waits for that to happen, it’s just before the race starts. I just like to hear him sing. I don’t know who they’re going to find to replace him.”