INDIANAPOLIS - Jim Nabors clutched the commemorative Indianapolis 500 ring, and in his best Gomer Pyle voice responded with a familiar "Gollleee!"
Nabors, who sings Back Home Again in Indiana before the start of the race each year, received the Unsung Hero award from former car owner and STP boss Andy Granatelli on Saturday.
The 73-year-old TV actor-singer was surprised by the award, one of many presented during a 40-minute drivers' meeting along the main straightaway.
"I never expected this. Thank you all very much," Nabors said as about 5,000 fans applauded.
Gil de Ferran and car owner Roger Penske received replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy for their victory last year. Penske, whose drivers have won a record 13 Indy 500s, also received an owners ring. De Ferran received a plaque from the American Dairy Association, celebrating the winner's traditional swig of milk in Victory Lane. Buddy Rice received the MBNA Pole Award and a check for $100,000 for winning the pole this season.
"This is certainly my greatest trophy," said de Ferran, who retired at the end of last season. "It's one of most coveted trophies in auto racing. To receive this (replica) and have my face on the big one behind me is beyond words, really."
Actors James Garner and Florence Henderson presented rings to 32 starters. The only driver missing was Robby Gordon, who was at Concord, N.C., for practice for the Coca-Cola 600. He plans to drive in the 500 today, then fly to North Carolina for the Nextel Cup race.
DRIVERS, BE SAFE: Indy director of operations Brian Barnhart outlined the schedule and finished the drivers' meeting with his annual plea for safety.
He called it "one of the most competitive fields" in Indy 500 history and stressed the importance of a safe start.
"Get into a rhythm and let things sort out," Barnhart said.
"If you've never raced here, I can assure you going three abreast on a narrow track is like nothing you've ever experienced," he said. "Be patient. It's our intent to run all 500 miles. You should use the first 400 miles to get yourself in position for the last 100 miles. ... Control your own destiny with good decisions, common sense and respect."
NEXT GENERATION: Sons of two former winners will be in the starting lineup, and for the first time since 1980 neither is an Andretti or an Unser.
Larry Foyt, son of four-time winner A.J. Foyt, and PJ Jones, son of 1963 winner Parnelli Jones, are among eight rookies in the 33-car field. The lineup also includes second-year driver A.J. Foyt IV - Larry's nephew and A.J.'s grandson.
"I'm just another driver. It's something I've grown up with all my life," Larry Foyt said. "It's one of the reasons my dad tried to keep me out of racing. He knew it's tough, and you're always going to be under scrutiny and under the microscope, I guess."
Parnelli Jones also never wanted PJ to race.
"He's been awesome as a father," PJ said. "He'll be there, he'll be nervous, he'll be pacing back and forth. Being here for so many race days and seeing what this event is all about, it's incredible. I'm just very fortunate."
Any advice from Parnelli to PJ?
"He already told me, "If you do one thing, make sure you beat a Foyt."'
The last time two sons of former winners besides an Andretti or Unser were in the lineup was in 1980 with Bill Vukovich Jr. and Johnny Parsons.