Balloon release tradition dates back to 1947

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Every year right before the start of the Indianapolis 500, tens of thousands of balloons are released into the sky. It’s one of the few traditions Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson said has gone almost unchanged over the years.

The singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana” is one of the most iconic moments of the Indianapolis 500 and the balloon release is the cherry on top.

The balloon release on race morning dates back to 1947.

“A lot of traditions kind of evolved and they’ve been very hard to track, but that one’s authenticated. It was the wording for the longest time was that it was the idea of Mrs. Hulman, and the thinking being that it was Mary Hulman. It turns out it was Grace Smith Hulman, who was Tony Hulman’s mother. Where her idea came from — I don’t know,” said Davidson.

The day before the race, a team from Terre Haute packs at least 25,000 helium-filled balloons in a tent.

“It’s released during the song and I think it’s, ‘When I think about the moonlight on the Wabash,’  that’s the signal to let them go.” said Davidson.  “Before the pagoda when you had the master control tower, you could look out and see them pour out.”

People all over Central Indiana may spot the balloons floating over their homes.

“Even after the engines fired and the race started you could look off and still see the balloons going off into the distance,” said Davidson.

The team matches the balloons to the color scheme of the Indy 500 logo every year. For the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, the colors will be yellow and white.

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