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Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #5: Cornelison Brings House Down

Editor's Note: This is the sixth of a series of 10 vignettes in which IMS Senior Communications Manager Paul Kelly picks his top 10 moments of 2017 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Back Home Again in Indiana” is a short song with a long legacy at IMS.

It’s not the national anthem. It’s not even the official state song of Indiana. But it has meant so much to so many people since Metropolitan Opera star James Melton started the tradition of singing the song on Race Morning before the Indianapolis 500 in 1946.

Actor-entertainer Jim Nabors became an institution of IMS, the state of Indiana and Hoosiers everywhere with his 36 stirring renditions of the song from 1972-2014. It wasn’t an enviable task to follow Nabors in the performance of the song, but Straight No Chaser and Josh Kaufman each did a fine job in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

In 2017, IMS invited Jim Cornelison to perform “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. While Straight No Chaser and Kaufman were known as entertainers and singers based in Indiana, Cornelison was not a familiar face to many fans.

Cornelison studied voice at Indiana University. Race fans who also follow hockey knew Cornelison from his inspiring renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before every Chicago Blackhawks game. But Cornelison was far from a household name.

It’s safe to say that every Indianapolis 500 fan knows Jim Cornelison now.

His rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana” raised goose bumps the size of dimes on the bodies of the more than 250,000 fans attending the race at IMS and millions watching on ABC and listening on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network.

From the opening notes, everyone knew the performance was special. But the chills reached a fever pitch when Cornelison held the final note of the final word of the song seemingly for hours, as “HOME!” reverberated around more than 1,000 acres of the magnificent facility in a rich tenor.

The crowd erupted in appreciative applause. IMS received a deluge of complimentary phone calls, emails and social media posts about Cornelison’s performance. A new star was born, and IMS President Doug Boles quickly extended an invitation to Cornelison to sing again in May 2018.

While Cornelison wowed the crowd on Race Morning, IMS staffers got a sneak preview of the magic the day before the race.

The Media Staff continued to work on the fourth floor of the Media Center during a variety of pre-race rehearsals by various entertainers Saturday, May 26. It’s routine stuff, the final dry run. We all heard the opening notes of “Back Home Again in Indiana” on the Public Address and thought little of it. It was just rehearsal, after all.

Then Cornelison opened his mouth to sing. All of us on the front row of the Media Center stopped work almost immediately and looked at each other, eyes staring and mouths agape. Then we instinctively rushed from our laptops to the outside balcony adjacent to our workspace to hear the rest of the song without glass muffling the sweet sounds.

We all knew something special was happening. And we couldn’t wait to hear the crowd’s reaction the next morning.

No one ever will replace the legendary Jim Nabors in our hearts and minds. But hopefully another super-nice guy named Jim will keep the final Sunday in May clear on his calendar for years to come.

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