INDIANAPOLIS — There will be no balloon release at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.
The move was confirmed by both IMS president Doug Boles and IMS vice president of communications Alex Damron. Damron says the balloon release is “indefinitely paused” and confirmed 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.
IMS released a statement saying in part:
“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. 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 balloon release was last performed in 2019.
According to a FOX59 report on a 2019 IndyStar investigation, IMS officials said the thousands of balloons released in previous Indy 500s are biodegradable.
A reporter tested balloons similar to the ones used by IMS and tracked their progress over 11 months. She found when exposed to bacteria, the balloons “do degrade unlike a plastic.”
The balloon release has been heavily criticized by groups like the Indiana Audobon Society, who say the balloon debris is a hazard to birds, fish, and other animals. They say animals can be strangled by the balloons and can be seriously harmed, even die, if the balloons are ingested.
In 2019, a billboard was temporarily placed near IMS in Speedway that read “BALLOONS POLLUTE AND KILL. #StopLitteringIMS.”
The pre-race balloon release dates as far back as 1947.
The 106th running of the Indy 500 is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.