The Race Behind the Scenes

It’s dubbed the “most exciting two minutes in sports”, but if you live in Louisville, you know that the Kentucky Derby is much more than a two-minute horse race.

Just ask Louisville Water Executive Vice President Dave Vogel. For the last seven years, he’s felt like he’s run a race of his own long before the garland of roses is placed on the winning horse. Vogel serves on the Kentucky Derby Festival (KDF) Board which coordinates dozens of events leading up to the first Saturday in May, including Thunder Over Louisville, the mini/MARATHON races, the Pegasus Parade, the Great Steamboat Race on the Ohio River, and the Great BalloonFest series, just to name a few.

“I joke about this every year, but it gets pretty crazy when the Derby events kick in and I also have my real job here at Louisville Water to do. The events cut into my day and many of them roll into nights and weekends. I complain about it and then when it’s over, I’m like ‘Oh my God, that was just incredible! How much fun was that’?” he chuckled.

Vogel has had a front row seat to the excitement that begins in March and really starts to take over Derby City with Thunder Over Louisville, the largest fireworks show in the nation. Complete with an air show, people come from all over the country to celebrate.

Dave Vogel with Derby pins

“I think Thunder Over Louisville, selling the Pegasus pins, has the most memories for me,” Vogel shared. He and his wife have spent many Thunder days near Waterfront Park, selling Pegasus Pins to attendees and avid pin collectors.

“You’ll meet people that will show up with a vest on that is just loaded with pins from all the different years. People are real serious about getting these. I think there’s a 1973 Pegasus pin that is supposed to be very rare, so I don’t have one of those, but it’s a sought-after pin.”

Vogel says shelling out six or seven dollars for each pin may seem like a lot to some, but KDF relies on that funding to help entertain the community for more than two months.

“The pins go toward the operating budget for the Festival. We basically operate by selling tickets to events, selling Pegasus pins, and then sponsorships. The air show (at Thunder) is a huge expense. Without the sponsors, we could never afford it. Last year was particularly challenging because fuel prices were through the roof, for aviation fuel, and we pick up all that cost.”

KY Derby volunteer

Louisville Water helps fuel thousands of runners to the finish line for the annual mini/MARATHON. It’s one of Vogel’s favorite events, despite the dark and early start to his day at the starting line.

“It’s kind of eerie when you’re up that early in the morning. There’s not a lot of runners yet.” But he says, “There’s this electricity in the air that ‘hey, something special’s gonna happen here soon’. It’s pretty cool.”

Louisville Water crews work behind the scenes for weeks to ensure high-quality water will be flowing at all 15 water stops along the course on race day. Vice President and Chief Engineer Tim Kraus’ job is to recruit employees to work the hydration station outside our corporate office on South Third Street.

KY Derby volunteers

Vogel said, “People have fallen into certain jobs. Jerry and Linda Hettich, their mission is safety. They’re the ones that when runners come and get their cups and they throw the cups down on the street, they’re the ones with rakes and bags. They’re getting all of those cups out of the way so that runners won’t step on them and trip.”

Over at Seneca Park, it’s par for the course for Louisville Water employees during their volunteer shift at the $1 million hole-in-one contest. Vogel chairs the committee for this event.

KY Derby hole-n-one

“Our folks have been doing this for years and years and years. We all know each other and it’s like you have a group of friends that are running the thing.”

So, while Vogel may feel like he’s running a little ragged these days, he also has a huge sense of pride being involved with the festivities.

“You complain about the pain, but it’s short-lived because once it’s over, you think back and go, ‘man that was great’!”