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The greatest spectacle in beekeeping: here’s the buzz on those bees at IMS

Ross Harding at IMS
Posted at 7:32 PM, May 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-31 19:26:21-04

SPEEDWAY — There’s always a buzz in the air when it’s race day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but some race fans had some extra company Sunday when a swarm of honeybees appeared along the front stretch during the race.

WRTV employees snapped pictures and videos of the swarm as the Field of 33 whizzed by.

Bees swarm along the front stretch at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“They weren't there to sting anybody, they were just a swarm of bees looking for a new home,” says beekeeper and Hardwood Honey owner Ross Harding.

Harding, who was at the race, was unaware of the swirling swarm just a few sections away.

“I had no idea. I wasn't that surprised because I've been called there before.”

Harding was summoned back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday to retrieve the honeybees. He says that every spring, a strong colony will cast a swarm. This is when the old queen who survived the winter, leaves the hive and takes 60 percent of the colony with her. The bees typically relocate less than a mile from their previous hive frequently landing in various places including outside the media center at IMS.

Retrieving these bees from atop a ladder was not for the faint of heart, but it was all part of Harding’s plan.

Ross Harding climbs later at IMS
Ross Harding retrieves honeybees from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

“An 80-year-old beekeeper might have passed this one up,” Harding said.

But just as a strategy on race day can unravel in the blink of an eye, Harding quickly found himself without a queen.

“I grabbed her in my fingers and I was trying to put her into a cage and she flew away.”

But the beekeeper of 12 years was in it for the long haul and patiently awaited her return.

“I climbed back up there and I saw her again and I got her in a cage and I put her into a temporary box, and all the bees started going in and fanning, telling all the other bees to come in.”

While it looked scary, Harding said it was an incredible experience and he’s thankful he could help.

“The IMS chose to save the bees. They did the right thing.”

Back home again

Harding returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday morning to retrieve the hive which he estimates has between 12 and 16-thousand bees.

He says they were taken to a fellow beekeeper's apiary on the north side of Indianapolis near Keystone Ave. and the White River.

The new digs are especially fitting for these bees. It features black and white checkers and has an Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wing and Wheel logo.

Indy 500 bees relocated to north side

The race bees should produce honey in about a month.

Harding reminds Hoosiers to remain calm if they see a swarm of bees. The best thing to do is find a beekeeper on the swarm list from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

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