LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's Derby Season! Few people are as busy as the man in charge of the Kentucky Derby Festival -- Mike Berry.
The KDF is responsible for putting on among other things, Thunder Over Louisville, the Great Steamboat Race, the Pegasus Parade, the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and mini Marathon, and Berry's personal favorite -- the Great Bed Races. He said it's the only production where you hope the wheels fall off in the middle of an event.
Berry became CEO in February of 1997, following the sudden death of his predecessor Dan Mangeot. He likes to say he's in the "Business of Fun!" And even right now, he's already making plans for next year's festival.
During Derby season Berry puts in 18 to 20 hour days. He gets up at 4:30 a.m. each morning and ends the day at Kroger's Fest-A-Ville, to take in some of the music and visit with co-workers.
Here are my five questions with Kentucky Derby Festival CEO Mike Berry.
1) What's your first memory of the Kentucky Derby Festival?
When I was in elementary school, my mom worked for the Coast Guard here in Louisville. Starting in 1969, I got to ride on the Delta Queen in the Steamboat Race for several years as a result. I caught "Derby Festival Fever" at that young age and have never been cured.
2) When can you finally relax and take things in?
The last Friday of the Festival -- Oaks Day. When I wrap up my TV interviews on the backside that morning, I go home, start a load of laundry and then meet several staff members at Kroger's Fest-A-Ville for lunch. After gorging myself with pizza, corn dogs, elephant ears, gyro sandwiches and lemon shake-ups, we ride the carnival rides. Derby Day is fun and I enjoy the races, but relaxation (and a Pepto Bismal drip) has already occurred.
3) What are some of the perks in your position?
I have friends at most of the country's largest special events, so I have been a guest at the Rose Bowl, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Seattle SeaFair, the Indianapolis 500 Festival, the Portland Rose Festival and many others. My grandkids think I am a pretty cool Poppy, too.
4) Each year weather is a huge challenge for you. Do you remember one year in particular that was more stressful than others?
Without a doubt that year was 2011. Rain, below normal temperatures and flooding were the norm. We moved several events that year and I remember teams sweeping water off of an obstacle course in Waterfront Park as we raced to finish the competition before we lost any more ground to the rising Ohio River. The joke that year was we ran out of days before we could finish the plagues -- boils and locust notwithstanding.
5) What do you think of the new bright pink blazers for the KDF?
After two weeks and three events, I can now say, "They are growing on me." I had a friend tell me that it made my blue eyes stand out more (I thought all you could see was the bloodshot color). How cool is it that I get to wear a jacket that is so pink it can be seen from space?!