Indy 500: How the 2021 Race Is Breaking One Long-Standing Tradition

by Emily Morgan
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While the Indy 500 has been a staple in America since 1911, fans may notice something different about this year’s race.

Typically, the annual race commences with thousands of balloons being released during a pre-race celebration. However, for this year’s race, the Indianapolis 500 will go without a balloon release. 

According to the Indy Star, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will not proceed with the balloon release. The decision is reportedly due to COVID-19 safety protocols. 

In an emailed statement to the publication, a spokesperson described that “the balloon release will not be part of the pre-race show due to the limited footprint of our infield. They added, “Our event protocols make this activation, which requires committing both significant space and staff, very hard to pull off.” 

This will mark the second year in a row that the Indy 500 has passed on the traditional balloon release. Last year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway also canceled the release due to safety protocols caused by the virus. 

For over 70 years, the balloon release has been a pre-race tradition, despite the controversy that surrounds the event. Many environmentalists have requested that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway put a stop to the tradition altogether. According to various environmental groups, the balloons are harmful to the environment and wildlife. 

Environmentalists Call on Indy 500 to End Long Standing Tradition

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Emma Nelson, once the balloons deflate and fall to the ground, they can land in lakes and rivers and lead into the oceans. 

Nelson also noted that turtles and other wildlife could consume the balloons, leading to suffocation or starvation as they build up in their stomachs. In addition, Balloon Council, which represents the balloon manufacturing industry, has also called for the race to end the tradition. 

As a result of the controversy, an Indianapolis Motor Speedway spokesperson gave an initial remark stating the race had no plans to halt the release. Later, in 2018, the spokesperson changed their tune, noting that IMS was looking into the tradition. 

Now, the IndyStar reports that the spokesperson and the IMS are still looking into the practice. They added that there were no updates regarding whether the balloon release will continue in the future. 

The 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 begins at 12:45 p.m. ET on Sunday. Pre-race coverage began at 9 a.m. on NBCSN, with NBC taking over coverage at 11 a.m. ET. 

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