This isn't an article about racing.
This isn't even an article about cars. No, this article is about a man I've known my entire life, even though I've never met him. This article is about a man who was a true Hoosier, even though he wasn't born nor did he ever live in Indiana.
This article is about Jim Neighbors, the booming baritone who graced television screens as a slightly dopey character actor with a heart of gold.
Most people knew Jim as Gomer Pyle, USMC, sometime resident of Marberry in The Andy Griffith Show. But to anyone who has ever been lucky enough to attend the Indianapolis 500, Jim Neighbors was the booming baritone who signaled the start of every race by belting out Indiana's unofficial anthem, 'Back Home Again in Indiana.'
Neighbors was a staple, almost as famous as the race itself. Just listen to his final performance in 2014. The cheer that went up for Neighbors was almost as loud as the one that accompanied the dropping of the green flag.
Ask anyone from Indiana who Jim Neighbors was and they'll likely tell you he was the singer of 'Back Home Again.' Gomer Pyle's name might come up.
Growing up in Indiana, going to the race every year, I knew 'Back Home Again in Indiana' before I knew Christmas Carols. And, similarly, I knew the voice of Jim Neighbors before I knew the voice of almost anyone on the radio.
Jim was a part of my family, my racing family. His voice meant the start of something I loved, the 500.
As I got older and eventually moved away from Indiana, Jim's voice and Jim's song meant more and more to me.
"How I long for my Indiana home," became a refrain for me in moments of feeling homesick. My friends, who had I been lucky enough to bring to the 500 and started attending with me year after year took to it as well, sending each other snippets of the song as each year May rolled around and our excitement for the race intensified.
And, inevitabely, every time we read those lines, we heard the voice Jim Neighbors.
And while Jim's passing is hardest, of course, on his family and those close to him, to anyone who calls themselves a Hoosier, today doesn't feel like a day we lost an icon. No, today it feels like we lost a friend that welcomed us home every year.