It’s Time To Start A New Tradition

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Longtime readers of this site know what a traditionalist I am when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. Actually, with my disdain for change – I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to just about everything. But you can multiply my appreciation for tradition many times when we’re talking about the Indianapolis 500.

That’s why I was distraught when the inevitable day finally arrived when Jim Nabors announced that 2014 would be his last to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana just before the start of the race. I was there the day Nabors first sang that special song back in 1972. Although he didn’t sing it every year since then, he and his voice have been associated with that song and the “500” over the last few decades.

Nabors had the honor of singing it from 1972 through 1978. Then 1979 began a four-year stretch with others rotating through. He returned in 1983 and 1984, but then took off the next two years. Beginning in 1987, no one besides Nabors performed (Back Home Again in) Indiana before the Indianapolis 500 until 2015. Granted there were a couple of years when health problems prevented Nabors from making the trip from his home in Hawaii, but that was handled by recordings and the crowd singing.

The a cappella singing group, Straight No Chaser was tabbed for the honors in 2015. While I liked the idea to go a completely different direction from Nabors for the first year without him, I found their performance to be somewhat underwhelming and leaving me a little flat. This past year, Indianapolis resident Josh Kaufman was selected for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. I had never heard of him and a check of his You Tube performances left me cold. However, I was pleasantly surprised with his rendition along with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.

But there was just something about the big baritone voice of Jim Nabors that sent chills through your body, no matter how hot it was in the stands. Plus, there was the tradition of hearing a familiar voice over the years that told you that another Indianapolis 500 was upon us.

Prior to 1972, there was no regular voice for (Back Home Again in) Indiana before the “500”. It was a revolving door of singers of varying notoriety, much like those that are chosen for the singing of the National Anthem. Some may have liked a different singer each year, but I think the vast majority of us preferred welcoming back the familiar voice of Jim Nabors year after year.

But we knew that it couldn’t last forever. Father Time catches up with us all. I was happy that we were told ahead of time that the 2014 race was to be the last time for Nabors. That way we could savor the moment one last time and pay tribute to him accordingly. It would have been bad had we just found out in February of 2015 that he would no longer be doing it. When it was announced that 2014 would be his last, some suggested a recording of Nabors singing the famous song to be played each year, long after he’s gone. As much as I like tradition and familiarity, I found that suggestion to be a little on the creepy side.

Fortunately, that suggestion wasn’t taken seriously. But now that we have had two vastly different performances of that special song, I would like to see a return to a familiar face and voice for that moment. In March of 2014, just after Nabors announced his pending retirement, I wrote a post in which I mentioned that my oldest brother had recommended TV star Mike Rowe as a possible replacement for Nabors. After listening to a few samples of his rendition of the National Anthem, I heartily agreed.

For the two-and-a-half years that followed, I was touting Mike Rowe to be tabbed for at least one appearance to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana before the start of the Indianapolis 500 to anyone that would listen. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

Last week, Mike Rowe posted an unofficial audition for the gig on his Facebook page. It went viral throughout the IndyCar community. I shared it along with many others. It didn’t take long for it to make it to IMS President Doug Boles. Here’s the video that I hope is viewable. He talks for a minute or so about being from Maryland and then belts it out while sitting at his kitchen table.

This past Tuesday night, Boles was on Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee. When asked about the video, Boles acknowledged that he was very impressed with the video and admitted that he and Rowe had talked. He said that even though Rowe had never attended the “500”, he was very impressed with his knowledge of the history of the race. Boles stopped short of saying that Rowe would be the singer for this year or any coming years.

Not only am I campaigning for Mike Rowe to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana for the 101st Indianapolis 500 next May; I would like to see him become the permanent replacement for Jim Nabors. At age 54, he could do it for many years to come. Familiarity is a good thing when it comes to traditions. I would like for Mike Rowe to become a familiar face with the Indianapolis 500.

George Phillips

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17 Responses to “It’s Time To Start A New Tradition”

  1. Outstanding rendition…!!! Mike Rowe, who knew!!!
    He was already one of my favorite people.

  2. And while we are at it, my thoughts on Darius Rucker’s version of the National Anthem was less than stellar. Instead of going with the amount of twitter followers, let’s get someone who just sings the song properly. It is so important in my mind.

  3. i have been advocating for Mike Rowe to replace Jim Nabors since Mr Nabors announced his retirement. Mr Rowe is pretty well known , has a voice you wouldn’t expect him to have ( much like Gomer ) is still pretty young so he could perform for several years . Mr Rowe seems to have the “common man” touch .
    With all the changes being made at IMS ( air racing ? ) why not give him a try. Didn’t Mr Rowe represent Ford on commercials for a while as well .

    • With the Speedway’s ties to Chevy, the Ford commercials you speak of could be a stumbling block – if he’s still doing them (which I don’t think is the case). Of course, if Ford could ever become the third series manufacturer…

  4. Mike Rowe makes a lot of sense to do it. He pretty famous, but not for singing so it is a win win for everyone involved. Surprised, but cool, that he cares enough to do a video audition and send it to the public.

  5. Greg Weddle Says:

    This brought a tear to my eye. This HAS to happen!! I absolutely LOVED Mike singing this song. Thanks for bringing my attention to this!

  6. Chris Lukens Says:

    I agree that Mike Rowe is the perfect person for this. The perfect voice. The perfect face. The perfect representation of the American Everyman.

    But here is the problem. Considering the brouhaha a few years ago over The Donald driving the pace car and the fact that Mike Rowe has somewhat similar political views, I don’t see how the SJW’s will ever allow this to happen.

    • What does politics have to do with singing the song ? Does the singer have to be politically correct ? Mr Nabors was/is gay did that enter in to his being selected to sing, I think not , this is Indiana after all. Pardon my ignorance what does SJW stand for ? Mike Rowe appears pretty patriotic and it is all about Memorial Day after all. Not sure anyone at IMS reads this blog but if they do HIRE MIKE ROWE !!!

      • billytheskink Says:

        SJW = “Social Justice Warrior”, a term usually used derisively for folks who promote socially progressive and/or liberal viewpoints.

        I very much doubt Rowe’s political views are well-known or controversial enough to foster any opposition to him being chosen to sing “Back Home Again”.

      • Chris Lukens Says:

        What does politics have to do with driving the pace car? Mike Rowe used to end his show saying something like, yes these are dirty jobs, but he never found a job an American wouldn’t do, blowing a hole in the open boarders/illegal aliens crowd’s main argument. He is despised by those people for saying that. And I agree, hire Mike Rowe.

  7. One thing about the performance this year that I really likes was that the correct words were sung. Jim always sang the same words, but they were not quite right. I hope whoever sings it next year is provided with the correct words, learns them, and sings them.
    Mike Rowe, in this audition mangles some of them more than most.

    • My sentiments exactly. I learned this beautiful song in an Indianapolis kindergarten and I have appreciated hearing the right words. Don’t get me wrong. I have always enjoyed Jim Nabors’ rendition, but I like the presentation of the song to be right.
      By the way, and in my opinion, the fellow this past year, Kauffman, did a terrific job with it.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    If we can’t get Mike Rowe, maybe we can get former Indycar and Can-Am driver Michael Roe (the boat ashore). Failing that, I’m sure Billy Roe would do it…

  9. Yes, let’s sign up Mike Rowe right now. I had read somewhere he had a musical theater background, but had no clue he had such a stellar voice. I thought at first he was aboard one of the Deadliest Catch ships, but alas just his kitchen.

    What a great way to end the week! I buried my mom last week, so have been out of sorts. So, thanks George for posting this video. Brightened my Friday.

  10. Mike Rowe does an excellent job and makes the song sound almost exactly like Jim singing.

    But, as he freely admits, he’s not from Indiana.

    Surely in a state that large there must be a baritone citizen or ex-citizen who can belt it out like Jim did. Nothing against Mike, but surely you’d want an ex-Hoosier (hope I spelled that right) to give that song REAL meaning.

    “Back Home Again” means I used to live there ………

    • I get what you’re saying, but Jim Nabors was an Alabama native living in Hawaii, who never lived in Indiana. He seemed to be completely accepted by the home crowd.

  11. Alan Stewart Says:

    I think it should be the Indianapolis Children’s Choir. By themselves. Every year. Can’t go wrong with hometown kids and it’s a cool way to get new young faces (and their parents) to the track every year.

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