Finding Jim Nabors' replacement no easy task for Indianapolis Motor Speedway

August 20, 2014
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Just because the 2014 season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway recently wrapped up with the MotoGP and Brickyard 400 races doesn’t mean President Doug Boles has nothing to do.

To the contrary, he says now is the time to start getting ready for next year. Already, Boles and his staff are considering things like revamping parking at the mammoth facility, reconfiguring suites (possibly creating some smaller private suites along the main straight), and capital improvements such as overhauling restrooms and adding high-definition video boards.

There’s one other thing Boles has on his to-do list: replace Jim Nabors as the singer of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” sung prior to the Indianapolis 500. While Boles said Speedway officials haven’t reached out to potential replacements just yet, he said plenty of people have asked to be considered.

Nabors has sung “Back Home Again” nearly every year since 1972. But when Nabors couldn’t attend the Indy 500 in 2012, Boles said the outpouring was unbelievable—both from fans fond of the song and those wanting to replace Nabors.

One man, Boles recalled, showed up at Speedway headquarters and refused to leave until an IMS executive spoke to him. Boles relented and went down to the lobby, where the man stood inches from Boles’ face belting out the song. When Boles tried to interrupt, saying he got the picture, the man insisted on finishing the song. He then left Boles a recording of himself singing the song.

“As it turns out, a lot of people feel very passionately about that song,” Boles said.

The others include actor David Hasselhoff, of Baywatch and Knight Rider fame. Apparently Hasselhoff is known as something of a singer, as well, his songs once attaining some popularity in Germany for a time.

In 2012, IMS officials decided to go with a video of Nabors singing the soulful song. That won’t be the case next year. Boles said there’s no timeline on finding or announcing Nabors’ replacement. He declined to name possible replacements or say who has approached the Speedway this time around. He’s also not sure exactly what characteristics in a singer will be sought.

Two things are clear, though.

First, Speedway officials aren’t necessarily looking for someone to sing the song on an ongoing basis. Boles pointed out that Nabors was only selected to sing the song for one year in 1972, but it “just clicked” and so the track retained him each May.

Second, the search isn’t going to be limited to people with Hoosier roots, though many have already expressed their desire to see the likes of John Mellencamp, Sandi Patty, Florence Henderson or even Josh Kaufman.

“Jim Nabors isn’t from Indiana,” Boles said.

He’s from Alabama. He didn’t even know the words to the song the first time he sang it. He had to write them on his hand.

For now, IMS officials are merely looking for someone to sing the song before the 2015 race. From there, they’ll see how it evolves, Boles said.

The song was first sung before the Indianapolis 500 in 1946 and for the first 26 years a singer usually sang it for just one year. That is, until Nabors came along and universally ingratiated himself to Hoosiers.

  • Mike Rowe
    Look no further than Mike Rowe, the former host of dirty jobs, who was also a classically trained singer.
    • Decisions. Decisions....
      My favorite would be Straight No Chaser, but there are lots of choices.
    • Local boy!
      Go get Bedford born and raised country singer, Clayton Anderson!
    • Straight No Chaser
      Straight No Chaser would be a perfect choice for Back Home Again. They have Hoosier roots and would do an incredible job!!
    • Replacing Jim N.
      What about Hoagy Carmichael look-alike,sound-alike son ,piano-vocalist Randy Carmichael--a race fan, "my father was a Hoosier by birth, I'm a Hoosier by choice" Maybe he could remember the correct lyrics--which JN never could achieve.
    • no brainer
      It is a no brainer. It has to be Mellencamp. He is a Hoosier legend, sings about the heartland, and is "the voice of Indiana. Frankly, I have never heard of the aforementioned group. Sounds new age country....YAWN!
      • Extend the tradition
        Since the Purdue All American Marching Band plays the song, why not let the Purdue Glee Club sing along each year.
        • Here is an idea...
          ...Gomer Idol. IMS can host a singing competition for Gomers and the winner gets to sing the song on race day, then go out and get kilt in the two-seater when one fo the old men, take your pick, Al Unser. Sr., Arie, or Scario, wall-pop the seater into the Indiana concrete. Bbbwwwwwwaaahaaaaa!!!!!
        • IRATE
          Boles doesn't know what he is talking about. He wants to keep fans but wants to get rid of finding a good replacement for Nabors. Right here is another example of a way to lose fans. It has become a tradition so keep it!!! I don't care where they are from, but it needs to be comparable to the way Jim used to sing it. Quit changing so many "traditions" that is what is losing fans:(
        • Rowe
          Great idea about Mike Rowe, Bob !
        • Duh!
          Steven Tyler, of course!
        • to Boiler Up
          Actually, thats a darn good idea! Or perhaps a soloist with the Glee Club, singing along with them. Contest within to pick the soloist each year. What an honor. I have a bit of an issue with finding a replacement for Gomer. I worry about some of the "celebrity" singers, trying to sing their own "special" version, and ruin it like many do the Star Spangled Banner.
        • The New Mown Hay Sends All Its Fragrance
          The only thing I would add is that selection of David Hasselhoff would detract from the spectacle and make IMS look as stupid and out of touch as they do whenever Florence Henderson stumbles up to the mic. Find someone more contemporary. With regard to Straight No Chaser...go to youtube and search 'Straight No Chaser Back Home Again in Indiana.' THAT'S the kind of thing we should be seeking.
        • Mike Rowe
          I think Mike Rowe would be a great choice. A great voice and I believe that he would embrace the tradition.
        • Needs to be contemporary
          To get people interested they need to get some names in there. Taylor Swift. She'd be good. Kid Rock. Coldplay. Katy Perry is a good choice. You have to go with pop stars. That or drop it. Indy is changing up anyhow. It only needs to be about a week long anymore and maybe less. And the "Back Home" song is kinds corn ball anyhow. Youngster's may think it is geeky. I don't know.
        • MATT ROUSH!!!
          Look no further then local artist Matt Roush. Check it out!
        • BJE
          Straight No Chaser - then have Purdue Marching Band, and former grads of Indiana University - and they always sing occupella
        • IMS Tradition
          Jim Nabors singing is part of the IMS tradition. They should really reconsider and use the video of him signing Back Home Again, at least for next year. I have heard he may come back, if asked, to sing in 2016.
        • 500
          Big ahead Todd
        • New tradition
          They should start a new tradition by getting rid of that old dated one. I'm not from Indiana so I think the Straight Chaser's should sing "California here I come". A much better more fitting song.
        • dlr
          David Lee Roth. A true contender.
        • New Tradition
          Why does he need to be replaced? Why not just have the crowed sing the song. There will be new high definition screens, scroll the words across the bottom. I think that 200,000 people can collectively sing better than 1 person being compared to an idea of another.
        • Back Home Again in IN
          Why not bring it to the community - asking for a tape or cd from local high school seniors or Indiana Colleges and Universities and selecting from those entries (Males and Females). Having a different person each year, this could add a nice local (IN) touch to the Month of May Festivities. The selection could be done at the same time as the Princesses.
        • Paul Mills
          If you have been to the American Dairy's Fastest Rookie Luncheon in recent years, you've heard the Milk Promotion Services of Indiana VP, Paul Mills sing his outstanding rendition of the song. He is as good as anyone I've heard sing Back Home Again in Indiana.
        • Sing Along
          I Agree with New Traditions. An example is when the crowd at the Kentucky Derby sings 'My Old Kentucky Home' - a goosebumps moment. Let 200,000 people sing.
        • Rock it
          Axl Rose
        • jim neighbors cant be replaced
          only replicated. why not david crosby and melissa etheridge? they have all the elements to be a suitable replacemnet duo for the job. better than axil roses.
        • The Voice
          How about the Indy kid who won The Voice, Josh Kaufman. Any Indiana connection with a strong voice and not a superstar is what is needed.
        • Straight No Chaser
          just to clear it up... Straight No Chaser is an a capella group that formed at IU. They've toured nationally typically doing a capella arangements of everything from Old Songbook Standards to current hits on the radio.
        • Slayer
          Slayer should perform the song. Straight up aggressive American thrash metal is the kind of thing the 500 needs to return to the American spotlight.
        • Straight No Chaser is a no-brainer
          Straight No Chaser does a fantastic job and it keeps the same spirit of Gomer's version with it being different. They originally created the arrangement for the Little 500 in Bloomington so it has the same feel as the big race. You don't want to just plug some D-lister right into Gomer's spot with singing the same arrangement Gomer did as that would be unfair to the performer and remind everyone that he is not singing anymore... a change is a must! They've tried the acapella thing before and it didn't work... "Back Home" is technically a harder song to sing than "My Ole Kentucky Home". It doesn't help that the Purdue band isn't much better than your typical high school marching band.
        • This is why the IRL 5hunnert
          is only popular in Maroon COunty
        • Variety
          "Speedway officials aren't necessarily looking for someone to sing the song on an ongoing basis". Good. Singers and styles used to vary widely, including the likes of James Melton, Dinah Shore, Mel Torme, Johnny Desmond and more. I encourage variety.
        • Great Choice
          Straight No Chaser
        • They aren't looking for
          someone to sing on an ongoing basis cause theres only gone to be too mower
        • nabors
          Play a recording by Nabors and show his picture on the boards.

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