David MacAnally/Eyewitness News
Indianapolis - He's been a regular at the Speedway since 1972, but Jim Nabors is unable to attend this year's Indianapolis 500. Yet the show will go on.
The sounds of race cars say Indy 500 but for many this month of May another sound makes it complete. That is Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again In Indiana."
Nabors has sung the crowd pleaser at every 500 since 1987 - but not this year. Joie Chitwood, Speedway President, said "I got the word late last night (Wednesday) that Jim was sick. He has a condition that will not allow him to fly."
"That's too bad," said one fan camped out across from the Speedway. "That's something we look forward to."
"He's just part of the whole tradition," echoed another fan.
And a race without his voice will be a break with tradition that actually started in 1972. Nabors was at the Speedway to watch the race. The singer scheduled to perform didn't show so Tony Hulman asked Nabors to do the honors. He hasn't missed a race since 1987. This year would have been his 30th appearance.
So who will sing the song? Nabors will appear on video on the Speedway's giant TV screens and ask race fans to sing the song. The track will flash the lyrics on the big screens for those who forget them.
Key dates in the history of "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the Indianapolis 500:
- 1897: "On the Banks of the Wabash" is written by Paul Dresser, a Terre Haute native living in New York City. It becomes a popular song, with copies of its sheet music selling in the tens of thousands in the days before recorded music was common.
- 1913: Indiana General Assembly designates "Wabash" as the state song, seven years after Dresser's death.
- 1917: "Back Home Again in Indiana" is written by lyricist Ballard MacDonald and composer James Hanley, incorporating many lyrics and musical themes from "Wabash."
- 1919: A trackside brass band reportedly plays "Back Home Again" as Howdy Wilcox drives the final laps on his way to winning the seventh Indianapolis 500.
- 1940: "Back Home Again" is performed in the film "Remember the Night." The film brings the song to the attention of Dresser's brother, novelist Theodore Dreiser, who doesn't follow through on threats to pursue copyright violations.
- 1946: New York Metropolitan Opera performer James Melton sings "Back Home Again" about 45 minutes before the race, the song's first appearance in prerace activities. Melton sings it at the race four more times, the last in 1954.
- 1948: Organizers move the singing of "Back Home Again" to its present spot in the prerace order, immediately before the command for drivers to start engines.
- 1972: Jim Nabors sings "Back Home Again" at the speedway for the first time and returns for the next seven years. No one had sung it more than three times since Melton's days.
- 1979-86: Nabors misses six of eight races, with substitutes such as game-show host Peter Marshall and the Disney World Singers performing in his place.
- 1987: Nabors resumes singing "Back Home Again" each race.
- 2007: An illness is to keep Nabors at his Hawaii home, ending a streak of 20 straight appearances at the Indy 500.
Sources: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; "On the Banks of the Wabash: The Life and Music of Paul Dresser" by Clayton W. Henderson. (Compiled by the Associated Press.)