Vigo County residents in August surely noticed the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team zooming through the sky in their F/A-18 Hornet and delighting large crowds in the return of the Terre Haute Air Show after an 11-year absence.
Although specific attendance estimates weren’t available when this section went to press, tens of thousands of spectators showed up for the two-day event at Terre Haute Regional Airport.
David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau for the past 24 years, said the next Air Show probably won’t be back until the summer of 2021.
Patterson said the new plan is to host one every three years.
“If you have it every year, you saturate the market too much,” he explained. “You end up not getting not as good of acts every year. And it’s a huge undertaking locally.
“This year, we took two weeks to set this up. We’d been planning this for over a year. We don’t want to spook our volunteer base or our sponsors. [Having it every three years] allows us to get better acts.
“Three years just seems like a good plan based on our experience.”
This year, a general-admission ticket — $15 in advance and $20 at the gate — could get someone in either Saturday or Sunday. Not surprisingly, out-of-town visitors were many.
“You’re talking a $15 million impact on this community,” Patterson said.
In 2002, the first Terre Haute Air Show featured the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, attracting 50,000 people. In 2003, the show attracted 35,000 and in 2004, it dropped to 12,000 due to rainy weather. The show rebounded in 2005 with 48,000 spectators and more than 30,000 in attendance in 2006. The last previous show here took place in 2007.
Other tourist draws in Terre Haute include:
• LaVern Gibson Championship Course — The NCAA Division I national championships for men’s and women’s cross country won’t return to the Gibson course until Nov. 23, 2019, but there are still plenty of big meets taking place in eastern Vigo County.
Among the most significant 2018 races are the John McNichols Invitational for college runners Sept. 15, Nike Valley Twilight Night Race for high school runners Sept. 29, IHSAA sectionals Oct. 6, IHSAA state finals Oct. 27, NCAA Division I Great Lakes Regional on Nov. 9 and Nike Cross Regional Midwest Championships on Nov. 11.
“I believe this will be our 15th year for the IHSAA state finals,” Patterson noted correctly. “We have that race on contract five more years after this year [with the possibility of more afterward]. ... We had 3,400 runners in the Nike [Midwest Championships] race last year.”
• Scheid Diesel Extravaganza — This 22nd annual August event occurred last month at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds.
“Historically, it’s a wonderful event,” Patterson proclaimed. “It attracts 20,000-plus people over the three days [weather permitting]. It is a diesel engine expo. People come from all over to bring their diesel-powered trucks here.”
Patterson described it as “by far the biggest draw for the fairgrounds each year.”
“It’s a huge financial contributor to the fairgrounds,” he added.
Patterson addressed the number of arrests and citations issued on the city’s south side for people who attend the Extravaganza and drink alcohol or trespass elsewhere afterward.
“There’s always citations ... when you have high horsepower,” he said. “The Scheids go to great lengths to ensure security for everybody at the venue.”
• Griffin Bike Park — Griffin Bike Park, located near Fowler Park in southern Vigo County, is a Vigo County Parks and Recreation Department project and is endorsed by the Office of the Governor of Indiana as an official Indiana Bicentennial Legacy project.
Its website bills the 300-acre park as “a full-spectrum, destination riding experience for riders of all ages, skills and abilities.”
“Griffin Bike Park is poised to be the next big contributor to tourism in Vigo County,” Patterson said. “This park was chosen to be the Indiana state mountain biking course. ... The CVB and Griffin Bike Park are going to try to nurture that to where we develop a state competition within the school systems.”
Patterson appreciates how the park, which conducted its grand opening in October 2016, is open 365 days a year.
“You can ride at night,” he pointed out. “They really are developing a great bike park that will be visited by many, many folks.”
To see a schedule of events, visit griffinbikepark.com.
Special Olympics Indiana Summer Games — This past June, opening ceremonies kicked off ISU and Rose-Hulman serving as hosts for another Summer Games. More than 2,700 Special Olympics athletes and unified partners participated in the organization’s largest annual sporting event.
An additional 1,100 coaches and 1,500 volunteers made their presence felt.
The 2019 Summer Games are slated for June 7-9, also at ISU and Rose. All but three past Summer Games have taken place in Terre Haute.
“That will be their 50th anniversary,” Patterson said. “We’re in the midst of planning a number of special things to coincide with that anniversary.”
Terre Haute Action Track — Next month, the Action Track will wrap up “its biggest schedule in quite some time,” Patterson said.
“Boy, they’ve had a rough couple years the past couple years with weather,” he said. “But the World of Outlaws came back this year. The Action Track had a comeback year.”
The final 2018 races on the half-mile dirt oval will be the weekend of Oct. 12 and 13, with the World of Outlaws sprint cars appearing on the latter date.
Gibson Track and Field Complex — Indiana State’s complex was dedicated in April 2015. Located on First Street at the intersection with Chestnut Street, it will serve as host for the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) outdoor championships May 10-12.
The 2018 MVC outdoor championships took place here this past May.
“This will be our third MVC championships in four years [in 2019],” Patterson said. “It’s a wonderful event.”
Hulman Mini Speedway — The Terre Haute Quarter Midget Association broke ground on its new, 1/16-mile dirt track — known as Hulman Mini Speedway — at 3150 S. Houseman St. in April 2017. It conducted its grand opening in April 2018.
Most longtime Terre Haute residents probably remember the old Hulman Mini Speedway, which debuted at the corner of 13th Street and Lockport Road in 1956. But that property was purchased by Hydrite Chemical Co. during the winter of 2016-17.
That created a need for this new facility.
“We’re hopeful that the Dirt Grands are coming back next year,” Patterson said. “People are in town sometimes for 10 days for that event. The average stay [for out-of-towners] is eight to 10 days.”
Ages allowed to race at Hulman Mini Speedway range from 5 to 16.
Other attractions — The Indiana Association of Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame and Museum can be a unique way to spend an hour or two. It’s located inside the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau building.
“It has a variety of things, from the evolution of the pole vault, the poles involved, the different cleats, the starting blocks...,” Patterson said.
Turning to basketball, the third annual “The Invite” AAU youth tournaments will be contested May 31 through June 2 next year in the Rose-Hulman Sports and Recreation Center, Wabash Valley Family Sports Center and two other gyms to be determined. In 2018, about 86 teams from five states competed in various age groups.
Patterson also mentioned the Wabash Valley Crew rowing club for its potential drawing power along the Wabash River in Fairbanks Park.
The rowing club is for Wabash Valley high school youths and is open to anyone pf high school age. Some participants are from Illinois.
David Hughes can be reached at 812-231-4224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow David on Twitter @ TribStarDavid.