INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The 10-man a cappella group Straight No Chaser won over Indianapolis 500 fans on Sunday with a harmonized version of "Back Home Again in Indiana" a year after "Gomer Pyle" star Jim Nabors crooned his final version of the ode to Indiana.
Fans applauded generously after the group finished their rendition of the song, which came just before Mari Hulman George urged the 33 drivers to "start your engines."
Straight No Chaser member Seggie Isho said the group practiced the song at least 100 times in the two days before Sunday's performance to make sure they got it right. They didn't speak to Nabors to get any tips for performing the song, which he delivered with his distinctive baritone 35 times since 1972.
But Isho said he imagines the 84-year-old Nabors, who bowed out last year due to health reasons, would have told them to "do Indiana proud and make everyone know what being a Hoosier is all about."
Straight No Chaser has strong Indiana ties; the group was found in 1996 at Indiana University and all 10 members are IU alums.
Sue Moore, a 56-year-old from Lorain, Ohio, said the group "did a wonderful job" but added that "nobody will ever replace Jim Nabors." Her husband, Jeff Moore, 55, agreed that the a cappella version was pretty good and a departure from Nabors' approach.
"But the fact is, it took 10 guys to replace one guy who did it for 30-some years," he said.
Laura Toole, a 43-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, who's an Indiana University graduate, called the group's performance "a refreshing new beginning" for the tradition-filled race.
Race fans were greeted by partly sunny skies, temperatures in the lower 80s and a steady cooling breeze for Sunday's race.
Among those soaking up the weather and the race was 19-year-old John Devine, an Indiana University sophomore who was camping with three fellow IU friends at the so-called "glamping" encampment in the speedway's vast infield — where campers enjoy a step up from traditional camping.
Devine said he and his friends, who split the $950 cost of their 4-cot tent, had a great time partying late into the night during their three nights of camping. He said he'd do it again next year, and praised the speedway staff's prompt ice delivery for campers eager to keep their beer and other drinks chilled.
"They were really good about getting us ice — it was nice to just have a surplus of ice," the IU sophomore said.
Rod Richards, a 55-year-old from Richmond, Indiana, was camping for a second straight year in the 'glamping' area. He said his only complaint is that the tented area needs two shower buildings, one at either end of the camp. He said the one shower building, equipped with four showers, just isn't enough to satisfy demand.
Richards said he showered Saturday but the line was so long Sunday morning he just decided to skip it as the race drew near.
"I'll wait until I get home now, but it's no problem. I just like being here — it's kind of like a nice male holiday," Richards said as he and a friend sat in lawn chairs surrounded by empty beer cans beneath the shade of a large umbrella planted atop a grassy berm.
Race fans said a change in this year's traffic flow outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a good idea that helped speed traffic along.
This year's race is the first time many race fans encountered a new, two-lane roundabout that routes traffic through the intersection of 16th Street and Crawfordsville Road outside the track.