Who says there is no news coming out of the Verizon IndyCar Series? A decision that could affect the Indianapolis 500 for years to come was a front page headline in a recent Indianapolis Star: “New track tradition – Straight No Chaser replaces Nabors on iconic song.” Yep, the choice of a new voice, or voices in this case, to take the place of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” pushed important news to another page. What this says about our society is another discussion, but what it says about the tradition of the Indy 500 is loud and clear. It matters.
Oh, there will be haters on multiple issues. Some IndyCar fans get all frothy over the fact that one race holds so much sway over the public’s perception of the series. Their stance is that the 500 is just one more race on the schedule, and the PR it gets for things like who belts out a traditional song actually hurts the series and other venues and races. I’m on the side of the cash cow splashing down in the ocean creating a rising tide that lifts all ships on this one. I’m not quite sure how you make other races and venues more popular by making arguably the most well-known race in the world less popular.
Then there are the loyalists who recommended using a video of Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” in perpetuity, presumably because they thought the idea that a perennial B-list actor and singer was as good as it was ever going to get in Indianapolis. Truthfully, Jim Nabors’ baritone and his second tier stature worked very well for the race. There was no way he was ever going to be more important than the song or the tradition itself. In fact, he had become a hipster’s ironic ideal. Nabors was just schmaltzy enough to be cool. He had a good run.
There were some interesting suggestions for the replacements One was the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, who are top notch. I just had this sinking feeling about some 10-year-old asking his or her choir director some very difficult questions about aberrant human behavior. I even endorsed Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame, a trained opera singer. He fit the Jim Nabors B-list criteria of not now or ever being bigger than the song or the moment. And he was a baritone, too!
Which brings us to the new choice, the a cappella group Straight No Chaser. They were formed at Indiana University and became famous for a version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” that went viral on YouTube. Now that’s mixing traditional with modern. They are an inspired choice. They went to IU. They understand the importance of the song to the predominantly Hoosier crowd. They get the tradition. They are young. They are cool. I want to be churlish and find something to dislike, but they are really, really, good. Take a look at them singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” at this YouTube link.
The fans watching on ABC will absolutely love them. Let’s hope the video and audio upgrades work well out in the hinterlands of Turn 3 and the writhing humanity of the Snake Pit, too. Of minor consideration is the fact that an a cappella group not only sings the songs, but they also make their own music with their voices. This might leave the Purdue band, the accompaniment on this song for years, out of the picture. I’m sure the Indiana University grads of the group will get some pleasure out of that.
So here’s to a long tenure and the beginning of new tradition. Cars, drivers, fans, and facilities change. The inevitability of time demands it. Traditions like singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” are the sinews that keep us connected to the past and the future. Thanks for the good news, IMS. It was worth the wait.