Carl Fisher In June 1909 Balloon Race

This digital image artifact is a rescue from library microfilm of pen and ink art that supported an article Carl Fisher wrote for the June 20, 1909, Indianapolis Star Sunday edition. The artist's rendering shows Fisher emptying sandbag ballast as he and his ballooning mentor, George Bumbaugh, prepared to ascend from the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the yet unfinished track's first competition sports event - the June 5 "national championship" balloon race.
The contest involved nine balloons, with six qualifying for the national championship trophy. The design and construction of the other three were outside the bounds of the American Aero Club's rulebook - based on international governance - and they were placed in a separate class to compete for a handicap trophy.
Fisher's article describes his own experience as a competitor in the event. With Bumbaugh, he piloted the balloon, "Indiana," and, according to his story, they survived a harrowing journey that included twice being swept up into a "vortex" of atmospheric conditions resulting, they believed, from being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a cold front and a warm front collided. Their balloon was sent spinning like a top while in an abrupt ascension that sent them upwards at the rate of 800 feet per minute. They topped out at 14,000 feet where Fisher reported that the gas in Indiana began to congeal, emptying from the balloon in the appearance of white smoke. At that lofty altitude, Fisher reported that he and Bumbaugh scrambled for coats and blankets with teeth chattering to shield themselves from the frigid air.
Conversely, at another point in their journey, they were stalled in still air while the bright sun beat down on them. Compounding the issue, they were just above fluffy white cumulus clouds that reflected the light back at them to compound the heat like an oven. Fisher claimed the temperature reached 110 degrees.  An additional complication was discovered when they realized the cans they used to store water had previously contained oil, making the liquid undrinkable. This forced them to descend to an area just above the ground and request water from farmers. That decision triggered controversy as the event was all about an uninterrupted duration of time in the air, plus distance covered. Eventually, Fisher acquiesced to a ruling by the aero club judges which disqualified him.
Skeptics can reasonably challenge that the article is a tall tale. Fisher and Bumbaugh took that knowledge to their graves. While Carl Fisher was a master promoter, he invested his energies not in posing or self-promotion as done today, but in showcasing his products, be them cars or the Speedway. I choose to believe this amazing yarn. Regardless, it is a forgotten tale as today very little of substance about the balloon race is shared beyond the simplistic acknowledgment that it was the Speedway's first competitive event and that it occurred before the facility's initial completion on June 5, 1909.

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