Nabors was directed by Hal Needham, whose Budweiser Rocker Car remains a big draw at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum.
But the man who made the character Gomer Pyle famous first on The Andy Griffith Show and later Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. is mostly identified with open wheel racing, thanks to his long-standing relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“About 35 years ago I was invited by the people at Harrah’s Resort in Las Vegas to go to the Indy 500,” says Nabors. “Once we got there I was introduced to (track owner) Tony Hulman, and he asked me to ‘sing the song.’”
Aside from being a gifted comedic actor, Nabors also possesses a rich baritone voice that has recorded 28 albums, earning him five gold records and one platinum. He assumed Hulman wanted him to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to sing the national anthem in front of all those fans,” Nabors says. “So we started talking about it, and I asked what key they wanted me to sing it in. They just looked at me kind of puzzled.”
As it turns out, “The Star-Spangled Banner” gig was already taken. Instead, track officials wanted Nabors to sing “Back Home in Indiana,” which has become as much a part of The Brickyard as milk in Victory Lane.
“I panicked a little bit because I kept trying to remember the words to the song,” Nabors says. “I started humming it in my head, and the words started to come to me a little. Finally as I remembered them I started writing them down so I’d be sure not to forget, and that’s what started it all.
“I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Nabors now has homes in Oahu and Maui, where he runs a working macadamia nut farm and also grows tropical flowers. He still entertains and appears regularly with the Dallas and St. Louis symphonies.
And of course, he makes an appearance at Indy every Memorial Day weekend.