Hot air Cold air
May 9, 2010
|a Tale of 2 Races
The 34th running of the Indianapolis OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon was scheduled to coincide this year with the IMS Centennial Era Balloon Festival Founders Race. Both races were to take place on the morning of Saturday, May 8, and both were using the facilities of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One race got off as planned. The other did not.
Billed as the biggest half marathon in America, and the fifth largest running event in the country, for the past nine years the Mini has sold out with 35,000 registrants. This year’s race was sold out by December, 2009, five months before the event. The race is part of a three day Expo that includes the half marathon, a 5K race, a Wheelchair Race, food, music and a whole lot of partying.
The race has become so prestigious that it now draws world class runners - meaning that there are the two winning Kenyans, and 34,998 other runners who cross the finish line whenever they can get there.
The race starts downtown and ends at Military Park, but along the way runners circle the two and a half mile track at Indy. Just doing that would be daunting for the weekend runner, but the marathoners have to run five miles to get to the track, then another five miles after they circle it to get back to the finish line! But if you're a Kenyan this is all in a day's sprint.
The balloon race is the second in two years for the IMS, and this year’s race is called the Founders Race because it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first balloon race held at Indy. When the Speedway was coming up on it’s Centennial Anniversary there was a problem deciding what year to celebrate it. The track opened in 1909 but the first race was held until 1910 and it was a hot air balloon race. The first 500 mile auto race wasn't until 1911, so the managers decided on a three year Centennial Era celebration, which was pretty smart.
Hot air balloons returned to Indy last year, and the race this year is called the Founders Race because it commemorates the first race 100 years ago. The race was scheduled for the same morning as the OneAmerica 500 Mini Marathon, with the idea that the colorful balloons would give everyone something to look at while the runners were suffering and the bystanders were shivering. The balloon race was scheduled to take off from the track infield, weather permitting, but therein lies the problem.
A cold front has brought in extremely cold temperatures (which is good for hot air balloons), but on Saturday it also brought in stormy skies and hard, gusty winds (which is bad for hot air balloons). So weather not permitting, the Founders Race was postponed until Sunday. The ‘Glow’ however was not postponed, and it went off Saturday night as scheduled.
For those who don’t know what a balloon ‘glow’ is, it’s an event where they tether the balloons so they won’t lift off the ground, then they light them up internally with the propane burners they use to float them. Done after dark the effect is striking, and to add to the fun they do ‘twinkles’ were the pilots fire their burners randomly to create a twinkle effect, and they do a 'wave' where the balloons light up sequentially.
Due to the unfriendly weather we skipped the marathon and just watched it on TV, but at 5:30 PM we bundled up and took off for the track to see the ‘glow’. To get there we had to walk from our campground which is just outside the entrance to Turn 1, to Gate 9 which is a mile and a half away at the other end of the track. Then we had to walk another mile back to the infield behind the Pagoda. Never mind, it was worth it.
There was music, there were fireworks, and there was a stand selling killer Italian sausage sandwiches. There was a gift store with a lot of things we could do without, and a few things we couldn’t. And finally, there was a spirited display put on by the balloonists, who generously fired off their burners but minus the balloons. The skies were threatening, and the wind gusts were still too strong to put the balloons up safely.
Nevertheless it was fun, and how often do you get to stand on the infield at Indy and watch folks waste a couple hundred dollars worth of propane? When it was over they opened Gate 2 which is at our end of the track between Turns 1 and 2, so we only had to walk 3/4 of a mile to get home again.
The balloon race went off Sunday morning as planned. The only problem was we missed it! I got up early and took some pictures of dawn over the grandstand, then I went inside to wait for the balloons to start rising. I figured I would see them, and probably even hear them. Unfortunately I did not.
The motorhome is angled so that I can see from the Pagoda north out the windows on one side, and I can see the south end of the track at Turn 1 out the other side. As luck would have it, the balloons took off in the blind spot where I couldn’t see them, and by the time we realized it the last one was floating away over the trees and they were traveling away from us. Also they left before their scheduled lift off time! A major disappointment!!!!
We kept hoping the wind would shift and blow them back, but in the words of Henry Paulson when the market crashed, 'Hope is not a strategy'. Guess we'll just have to come back again next year!
P.S. We are not in Indianapolis after all - we're in Speedway, which is a separate town with it's own police and fire department, and a huge racetrack of some fame.