Jim Cornelison has big shoes to fill on race day and he's loving the opportunity

Jim Cornelison and Dave Calabro. (WTHR Staff)
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You can watch Dave's interview with Jim Cornelison tonight on Eyewitness News at 11.

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — When race day comes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it can't start until a song iconic to the race and our state has been sung.

"Back Home Again in Indiana" was composed by James F. Hanley in 1917. Ballard MacDonald added the lyrics.

In 1946, the song became a part of pre-race festivities before the start of the Indianapolis 500.

Most people though will only remember that the iconic Jim Nabors sang it. It was a role he so proudly took on from 1972 to 2014.

When Nabors could no longer carry it on, it fell on another "Jim" to carry the tradition forward — Jim Cornelison.

Jim Cornelison singing the National Anthem before the Blackhawks game March 18, 2019. (WTHR Staff)

Cornelison, with his big, booming, baritone voice, joined the Chicago Blackhawks to sing the National Anthem in 2008.

Before that, he was a full-time opera singer.

His talents were honed at the IU Jacob School of Music in Bloomington back in the late '80s.

Three years ago, he came home to carry on tradition at the track.

"I never even sung the song before, and I knew that I was walking into a situation that if I didn't do it just right, it would be a short stay," Cornelison told Dave Calabro.

He knew there was no way to do what Nabors had done, so he had to try and find his own way.

"People loved Jim Nabors. He connects with the audience in a very special way and you do your best to come up with a concept how you might do that and you hope it works. So it did, and it's been a fantastic thing to be a part of," Cornelison said.

On May 26, he will be singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" for the third time.

Still, the 54-year-old singer said it is still nerve-wracking when you're at "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

"The hard part is standing there five minutes before you're going to sing, looking at this wall of people as far as you can see left and as far as you can see right going, 'oh crap, don't look at them anymore,'" Cornelison said.

From there he focuses on the words and delivering a performance that will make race fans and Hoosiers proud.

And he hasn't let us down.

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