How ‘The Andy Griffith Show’s Jim Nabors Contributed to an Iconic Tradition at the Indy 500

by Caitlin Berard

In the 1960s, Jim Nabors became a household name with his role as Gomer Pyle on the beloved classic TV series The Andy Griffith Show. Though he employed a high-pitched hillbilly voice for Gomer’s speech, the fictional auto mechanic eventually unveiled a deep singing voice with which fans instantly fell in love.

Fans were so enamored with Jim Nabors’ singing, in fact, that he got his own show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., in which he was given even more chances to show off his beautiful voice. Years later, in 1972, Jim Nabors visited the Indianapolis Speedway to attend his first Indy 500 with his friend Bill Harrah, the Las Vegas mogul.

When Tony Hulman, the owner of the Speedway, came over to greet Harrah, he recognized Jim Nabors immediately. “Welcome; want to sing?” he asked, to which Nabors replied, “Sure.”

As he explained in an interview with Indy Star, Jim Nabors assumed he would be singing the national anthem. Just before he stepped onto the stage, however, he was informed that the traditional tune at the Indy 500 was “(Back Home Again in) Indiana.”

Luckily, Jim Nabors knew the melody to “Indiana”. He did not, however, know the words. But after a quick scribbling of lyrics onto his hand, Nabors was ready to perform regardless.

That first performance in 1972 marked the start of what would become a 50-year run as “Indiana” singer for Jim Nabors. The actor was never paid for his performances, nor did he ever ask for payment. For 50 years, Jim Nabors simply relished his annual concert, only missing a handful of performances along the way.

‘Andy Griffith Show’ Star Jim Nabors Retired From Singing in 2014

Sadly, his advanced age and declining health forced Jim Nabors to retire from his Indy 500 performances in 2014. Jolly as ever, Nabors didn’t seem too downtrodden by his circumstances. “Like the old song goes, ‘Don’t Stay Too Long at the Fair,'” Nabors said of his retirement.

Rather than retiring abruptly, Jim Nabors gave one last performance and told everyone ahead of time that his role would have to be passed down when it was over.

“He reached out to us in March 2014,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles explained to Indy Star. “And [he] said his doctors had told him he needed to quit traveling. He said he’d like to announce it would be his last year. It was the highlight of his year, and he’d like to thank the fans for celebrating along with him.”

“For me, and many of our fans, those 90 seconds are the most important 90 seconds of May,” Boles continued. “In my case, the most important 90 seconds of the year. You can’t unwind it from the Indy 500 and IMS. It is really that important.”

Though “Indiana” would never be the same without Jim Nabors at the microphone, the show must go on. Doug Boles eventually chose IU alum Jim Cornelison, who took over the role of “Indiana” singer in 2017.

Jim Nabors passed away in 2017 after spending a fabulous few years in retirement in his home in Honolulu, Hawaii, but he will always be remembered for his contributions to television and the Indy 500.