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Indiana, Michigan pilots win Centennial Era Balloon Festival races
Balloons rise above the famous Indy Speedway
Indiana balloonist Al Hansen and Michigan balloonist Paul Petrehn won the two races May 2-3 in the Centennial Era Balloon Festival presented by AT&T Real Yellow Pages at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Both races used the "hare and hound" format in which competitors followed the lead Indianapolis Motor Speedway balloon (the hare), with the balloonist who tossed a beanbag closest to the hare's landing zone winning. The Centennial Era Balloon Festival took place May 1-3 in honor of the first competitive event in IMS history, a balloon race June 5, 1909, more than two months before the famed 2.5-mile oval was completed.

Hansen, piloting the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation balloon, won the Founders Race on Saturday, May 2 with a winning distance of 26 feet from the mark. Hansen, whose balloon features a wheelchair-accessible basket (riding compartment), is a resident of Winamac, Ind.

He was quite emotional about the victory, not only for his place in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, but also for the joy he brought his passengers at this event: disabled child D.J. Darden, his father, Dewon, and 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. To be able to do that here at Indy and be part of the Centennial Era, it's quite an honor. I have to express thanks to my crew. I couldn't do it without them and our sponsors, Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, Lucas Oil and Superior Van and Mobility."

Hansen took home a trophy and $2,000.

Gary Moore of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., finished second in the Timepeace balloon (the "Pink Floyd" balloon), with a distance of 33 feet, 5 inches. Third place went to David Troutman from Louisville, Ky., in the Celtic Cross balloon, at 80 feet, 5 inches.

Petrehn, a Sport balloonist from Howell, Mich., won the 100 Years Race, missing the target by a mere 12.5 inches. Petrehn, 2004 and 2005 Balloon Federation of America National Champion, earned a trophy and $5,000 for his win.

"The 100-year history (of IMS), 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.

"I was kind of in the middle of the pack of balloons and I had a lot of help in terms of watching other balloons at different wind layers and altitudes, and I just played a real conservative line in there, and the wind and timing was on my side. Yesterday we had a shift in the winds that didn't help a lot of people out, but the winds stayed pretty smooth for my flight track through the target area. It just came down to taking a deep breath and letting the baggie go right over the target."

Placing second was Travis Vencel of Bloomington, Ind., in the Oliver Winery balloon, who was 13.5 inches off the mark. David Jaques of East Leroy, Mich., took third place in the Post Cereals balloon, with 3 feet, 3ΒΌ inches.

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