Jim Nabors' farewell saddens some Indy 500 fans

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 25, 2014 at 3:59 pm •  Published: May 25, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jim Nabors' final performance of "Back Home Again In Indiana" at the Indianapolis 500 left some race fans mourning the end of a long-running race tradition.

The swan song from the 83-year-old Nabors was a touching moment for Cindy Fiddler, a 58-year-old from Houston who was attending her first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She said she's always looked forward to the song and Nabors' deep voice as he crooned the ode to Indiana.

"It's really sad because it's like a tradition that's now died, it's gone," she said. Fiddler said whoever is chosen to succeed the man best-known as TV's Gomer Pyle in singing "Back Home" needs to be talented singer who means something both to Indiana and to race fans.

Nabors, who first performed the song in 1972, received a roaring appreciation from the crowd after he performed the song for a final time Sunday. He then stood by Mari Hulman George's side as they spoke in unison, "Lady and gentlemen, start your engines!"

Bob Curtner, an 82-year-old from Sidney, Ohio, who attended his first Indy 500 in the late 1940s, said he'll miss Nabors' distinctive baritone rendition.

"That's going to be very sad when he's not here anymore to sing that because everybody waits for that to happen, it's just before the race starts. I just like to hear him sing. I don't know who they're going to find to replace him," he said.

This year's race weekend was marred by violence, with the fatal shooting early Saturday of a 25-year-old man in one of several parking lots near the speedway where for decades thousands of fans have camped out and partied on race weekend. Early Sunday, the same sprawling lot was the scene of a robbery and shooting that left two men injured.

The fatal shooting was unusual, Indiana State Police Sgt. Brian Olehy said. In 2012, a fan was hospitalized after he was shot in the chest after an apparent altercation across from the speedway.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was tapped to wave the green flag starting the race and took time to meet with drivers and rapper/actor Ice-T. He declined to answer any questions Sunday about the NBA owners' upcoming vote to oust Donald Sterling as the Los Angeles Clippers' owner over his racist comments.

Cuban, who also apologized last week over his own comments addressing bigotry and prejudice, said during the pre-race red carpet walk that he just wanted to talk about Sunday's race. Cuban said he'd been asked twice before to wave the green flag, and was able to take part this year only because the Mavericks are out of the NBA playoffs.

"I told them this case hinged on Dallas not making it any further in the playoffs," he said. "So it's unfortunate that I'm here, but I'm also really excited to wave the flag."