Indiana, Michigan Pilots Win Centennial Era Balloon Festival Races
By Tina Mendenhall
At the Centennial Era Balloon Festival held May 2-3 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which celebrated the anniversary of a balloon race in 1909 that was the first competitive event in the speedway's history, Indiana balloonist Al Hansen won the Founders Race while the 100 Years Race was won by Michigan balloonist Paul Petrehn. Both races employed a "hare and hound" format, in which competitors followed a lead "hare" balloon and the balloonist who tossed a beanbag closest to where the hare landed was named the winner. Hansen was piloting the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation balloon, which featured a wheelchair-accessible basket, and tossed his beanbag 26 feet from the mark at the race's end. Aboard Hansen's balloon were disabled child D.J. Darden, his father Dewon, and his younger brother Brandon. "It's very emotional for me to be able to do this for disabled kids and handicapped children," Hansen said. "We took a kid up who is in a wheelchair this morning, him and his father and another son, and it's a privilege to do that and see the joy on their face." Meanwhile, Petrehn, a 2004 and 2005 Balloon Federation of America National Champion, tossed his beanbag just 12.5 inches from the target at the end of the 100 Years race. "The 100-year history [of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway] is amazing," Petrehn said; "The few names to have competed in balloons at the track and won, to join those names 100 years and to be involved in such a great event, [I'm] speechless right now. I'm very honored to be here right now."
May 3, 2009