INDIANAPOLIS (WXIN) – There will be no balloon release at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The move was confirmed by Doug Boles, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as well as Alex Damron, the vice president of communications for IMS. Damron said the balloon release is “indefinitely paused” and confirmed that environmental concerns “factored into the decision.”
“We’ve listened to concerns from a number of groups, individuals and fans in recent years and appreciate the feedback we’ve received,” Damron said via email.
Instead of a balloon release this year, IMS says there will be a second pre-race flyover performed at the end of the “Back Home Again in Indiana” performance.
“The primary objective of our pre-race show is to bring people together as we honor our military heroes, celebrate sporting excellence, and build the excitement and anticipation level as we prepare for the command to start engines,” IMS wrote in a statement, in part.
“While we understand the historical connection of the balloon release to many of our fans, we have paused it for now and will continue to evaluate the best opportunities to celebrate our event’s unique legacy and traditions moving forward. We are confident that this year’s pre-race activities will be as exciting and celebratory as any we have had at IMS.”
The pre-race balloon release, which dates back to 1947, has been heavily criticized by groups like the Indiana Audubon Society, who say the balloon debris is a hazard to birds, fish, and other animals. They say animals can be strangled by the balloons or seriously harmed and even die if the balloons are ingested.
“Indiana Audubon Society holds the position that intentional helium balloon releases should NOT be held due to their injurious effects upon wildlife, especially birds,” the organization writes on its website. “We are committed to promoting and protecting bird-friendly communities by helping to end balloon releases in Indiana.”
WXIN had previously reported on an investigation by the Indianapolis Star in 2019, in which IMS officials said the thousands of balloons released in previous races were biodegradable. A reporter tested balloons similar to the ones used by IMS and tracked their progress over 11 months. She found that, when exposed to bacteria, the balloons “do degrade, unlike a plastic.”
The balloon release was last performed in 2019, but omitted from the pre-race ceremonies in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 protocols creating staffing issues at the track, the outlet also reported.
The 106th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.