Indy 500 ball release not part of 2022 schedule due to environmental concerns

FILE IMAGE – View of balloons released as drivers line up on the starting grid on pit road before the start of the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24, 1998. (Photo by George Tiedemann/Sports Illustrated via Getty Pictures)

The tradition of releasing thousands of balloons before the Indianapolis 500 has been removed from the 2022 calendar of events, officials announced on Wednesday – citing environmental concerns as a factor in the decision.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials said the annual event, scheduled as part of May’s racing activities, has been “suspended.” Speedway spokesman Alex Damron confirmed that criticism of the practice from a number of groups, individuals and fans in recent years played a role in the move.

“While we understand the historic connection between the ball release and many of our fans, we have discontinued it for the time being and will continue to evaluate the best opportunities to celebrate the unique heritage and traditions of our event,” Damron said in a statement to FOX. TV stations. “We are confident that this year’s pre-race activities will be as exciting and festive as any we have had at IMS.”

The pre-race balloon release normally coincides with the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” and the tradition dates back to 1947, according to FOX59. This year there will be a second pre-race preview at the end of the song.

In 2019, the last time the balloon release was performed, a billboard inciting the tradition temporarily appeared near the highway. It featured someone holding a shredded balloon and read ‘Balloons pollute and kill’, followed by the hashtag ‘StopLitteringIMS’. The sign was later removed.

Florida resident Danielle Vosburgh, who organized the billboard, told The Indianapolis Star that the billboard was funded by donations and a grant from the Wilderness Fund. Vosburgh added that the billboard’s owner, Outlook Media, said it was taken down after the billboard was deemed an attack ad.

Damron said at the time that track officials were consulting with stakeholders and experts “to fully understand the impact of this practice and determine its status in the years to come.”

AUTO: MAY 24 IndyCar Series - Indianapolis 500

FILE IMAGE – May 24, 2015: Balloons are released during the race for the 99th Indianapolis 500’s Biggest Race Show in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The practice has also been heavily criticized by the conservation organization Indiana Audubon Society, which argues that balloon debris entangles birds, fish and other animals, strangling them or damaging their limbs. It also states that animals can mistake the balloons for food and ingest them, which can injure or kill them.

“These massive balloon releases result in thousands of pieces of trash falling to the ground and into waterways. At best, the debris becomes unsightly pollution. However, this tradition often poses a dangerous threat to wildlife and domestic animals.” , says the organization. on its website, listing other organizations that also opposed the Indy 500 balloon release.

“Trash can easily make its way through air currents and rivers to the ocean, where it contributes to the formation of huge islands of trash and the death of sea turtles, whales and other forms of marine life.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has declared that balloons used in previous years are biodegradable, according to the Indianapolis Star. The newspaper before conducted an experiment to test if the balloons have degraded. Using the same balloons pictured in previous years, he immersed two in fresh water, two in salt water, two in a pot of soil and two in a compost file from June 2018 to May 2019.

The IndyStar reported that some balls deteriorated after nearly 11 months, but most remained largely intact.

“All of the balloons submerged in water looked and felt nearly identical to the balloons right out of the box,” the newspaper said.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.