The Start Of A New Tradition

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I’m a little late to the party on this. With so much IndyCar news in the last couple of weeks, I can’t discuss everything in one post – so I have to spread things out. Besides it’s the offseason and the time will come when we run out of things to talk about here, so too many things at once is sort of a nice problem to have.

A couple of weeks ago, IMS President Doug Boles announced that Jim Cornelison will return next May to sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana. Cornelison performed the fabled song this past May and gave a stirring rendition. He will be the first person to return for a second time since Jim Nabors gave up those duties after the 2014 race after performing it thirty-six times between 1972 and 2014.

The next two years saw performances that was liked by many – but I wasn’t one of them. It wasn’t because they weren’t done by Jim Nabors, they were just both done in a style I didn’t care for – not for that song. (Back Home Again in) Indiana is a song that requires a booming baritone voice, especially when sung outdoors over a public address system that covers a vast amount of space. The a cappella version by Straight, No Chaser, and the wispy style by Josh Kaufman both left me cold.

But when Jim Cornelison sent his booming voice through the sound system of IMS last May, it sent chills up my spine.

It helped that he utilized the Purdue University All-American Marching Band, which had not been used for that performance since Jim Nabors left in 2014. Cornelison used a different arrangement than Nabors had used all those years, so that it didn’t sound like a re-make of the Nabors version. It sounded fresh and he made it his own. And when Jim Cornelison hit that final note and carried it for fourteen seconds – well, if that doesn’t get your attention then nothing will.

When Nabors retired in 2014, it was believed that The Speedway would have a revolving door of performers each year to perform that iconic song, much like they do with The National Anthem. Since Cornelison was famous for his singing of The National Anthem at Chicago Blackhawk games, many wondered why he wasn’t tabbed for that role for the Indianapolis 500. It sounds like he wanted to branch out and do something different while outside of Chicago. Besides, didn’t we all want to hear Bebe Rexha sing it instead anyway?

My hope was, and still is, that the revolving door would serve as a sort of secret audition until they stumbled upon a great rendition that could become the next tradition. I think they have found it in Jim Cornelison.

I realize my hatred of change makes me the wrong person to comment on this, but I believe that fans don’t like change when it comes to their Race Day traditions. Whether it is to take the same route to the track each race morning, eat the same rib-eye sandwich from the exact same stand at 7:00 in the morning or sit in the same seats for fifty years – fans like their race day routines.

It’s the same with the pre-race ceremonies. Many (myself included) didn’t like it when the Jim Phillippe Memorial Day homage died with him in 2003. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just before the playing of Taps, Phillippe would say the same words verbatim each year between 1965 and 2003;

“On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause in a moment of brief silence, to pay homage to those individuals who have given their lives – unselfishly, and unafraid – so that we may witness as free men and women, the world’s greatest sporting event. We also pay homage to those individuals, who have given their lives – unselfishly, and without fear – to make racing the world’s most spectacular spectator sport.”

I don’t care if they use an old recording or someone new every year, but I would like that homage returned to the pre-race format. It was brief and was a very nice and appropriate lead-in to Taps.

But there is no question of what my favorite minute and a half of Indianapolis 500 Race Day is – the singing of (Back Home Again in) Indiana. Hearing Jim Cornelison’s melodious voice backed up by the Purdue Band with the balloon release going off in the background…it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Cornelison spoke in glowing terms of his experience at the 2017 Indianapolis 500. I know most fans loved his performance. It is my hope that we witnessed the start of a new tradition this past May and that Jim Cornelison will be singing (Back Home Again in) Indiana for the next twenty years or so. But next year, someone needs to tell PA announcer Dave Calabro how to pronounce his name correctly.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “The Start Of A New Tradition”

  1. We are looking to get more snow here in Wisconsin, but this post has really got me going. Is it May yet!
    I saved your Cornelison audio with the help of Audacity and I printed your post because i don’t wan’t to forget the words of the Jim Phillippe homage. That homage needs to be brought back. I feel very strongly about that. I think I am going to begin writing, calling, and emailing everyone I can think who might have the authority and sensitivity to bring that back. I hope others of you reading this will do the same. Never-the-less, I don’t want to peak too soon, so I will begin my efforts in March.

  2. I agree the Jim Phillipli taps introbshould be brought back. The whole pre race needs to go back to how it was in 60s and 70s . short, simple right to the command.

  3. Agree on everything. And, just for goose bump purposes, I just listened to ‘on this memorial day weekend’ in your sounds of the 500 section. Great stuff!

  4. I also believe that the full Purdue Band should be used for the playing of “Taps”, just like it was when I was a playing member of said band in 1967. It was a remarkable arrangement much more impressive than a single soloist.

    • I agree and not just because I attended Purdue in the 60’s. With no slight intended to you, my most vivid memory of the band is the “Golden Girl” Addie Darling. Oh my!

  5. billytheskink Says:

    It’s the sum of all the seemingly small traditions that make the 500 what it is, “Back Home Again” being one of them of course. But George has it here, it isn’t just the song, it is the way the song is performed that makes it such a tradition.

    Cornelison didn’t imitate Nabors, but his version nevertheless sounded like a tradition right off the bat. I’m fine with him singing it in perpetuity.

  6. I guess i’m going to be the voice of dissent here: I liked Jim C’s rendition (and the Purdue Band), but, to my ears, he was noticeably off key numerous times. That was the first time I’d heard him sing and couldn’t understand the hype. Maybe my ears are just getting old…

  7. Absolutely agree about the homage speech. That gave me chills every year. It would only take a minute to work it back in the program and it never should have been discontinued in the first place. Too bad the Speedway let ABC turn the ceremonies into a tv show.

    • Thank you Patrick. I’m going to start by contacting Robin Miller and the “Trackside” guys and see where that takes me.

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