News & Multimedia

Top 10 Moments of 2017 - #7: Farewell, Nicky and Jim

Editor's Note: This is the fourth 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.

It’s always hard to say goodbye to dear friends. But the loss of Nicky Hayden and Jim Nabors hit especially hard for us in 2017 at IMS.

It may seem odd, but there were many common bonds between motorcycle racer Hayden, who died in May at age 35, and actor and entertainer Nabors, who died in November at age 87.

Both were Southern gentlemen. Hayden hailed from his beloved Owensboro, Kentucky, while Nabors was born in Sylacauga, Alabama.

Both were world-class at their chosen fields. Hayden stunned megastar Valentino Rossi to win the 2006 MotoGP World Championship and was a mainstay of the premier class of global motorcycle road racing for more than a decade. Nabors was beloved in his TV role as Gomer Pyle and also thrilled audiences around the world with his rich baritone, which he used to sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” 36 times before the Indianapolis 500 36 between 1972 and 2014.

Both men were exceedingly friendly and gracious to their fans, always posing for photos and signing autographs.

But perhaps the bond between Nicky and Jim that resonated the most with IMS fans was their love for the Racing Capital of the World.

Hayden tirelessly worked to promote the Red Bull Indianapolis GP during its eight-year run at IMS from 2008-15. He often drove up from Owensboro, usually with at least one member of his incredibly tight-knit, fun family along for the ride, and did any promotion and PR work asked of him – always with a smile on his face.

Nabors loved returning to IMS for Indianapolis 500 Race Weekend, taking in the 500 Festival Parade, Public Drivers Meeting, Victory Celebration and other festivities with his dear friends, IMS Chairman of the Board Emeritus Mari Hulman George and fellow entertainer Florence Henderson.

Both men also had a quality so unique among celebrities. They made an instant connection with everyone they met through kindness and humility, making “regular folk” feel like they were the important ones, not vice-versa.

Hayden and Nabors also seemingly were more grateful for the privileges and access extended to them by IMS than we were for their tireless work and dedication to the track. And trust me, we loved and were so thankful for Nicky and Jim.

So news of their deaths – Nicky after a tragic bicycle accident and Jim after an illness – hit everyone hard at IMS. These guys were legends, the highest possible achievers in their fields. But they also were our friends and people who had the same passion for IMS as us.

They were one of us. And we loved them for that. So it was only fitting that the loss of both men were memorialized by poignant tributes on the IMS Scoring Pylon. Nabors also is being honored by a light display on the Lights at the Brickyard route.

Godspeed, Nicky and Jim. You’ll always be remembered here at IMS.


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