The Great Texas Balloon Race is held in Longview, Texas whose population is 80,455 (2010). I know that the purpose of this website is to highlight towns with population less than 20,000, but since I enjoyed this so much, I just had to share. I had a desire to see this balloon race anyway, despite the larger population, with every intention of writing an article.
This annual balloon race was created in 1978 after an agreement between a local dentist, Dr. Bill Bussey, a world-record hot air balloon pilot, and local Longview mall managers, who wanted to advertise the opening of the brand new mall. Dr. Bussey draped a banner on his balloon and flew over the Longview area to assist with advertising.
Soon after, an evening attraction at the mall called a, “balloon glow” was designed to attract and entertain crowds.
It became so popular that eventually it had to be moved to a larger location, the East Texas Regional Airport.
I had never been to a balloon race, let alone ever seen a hot air balloon up close, so I didn’t know what to expect. This was a week-long event with entrance fees of $15.00 (a lot more is included in the festivities), but I chose to go on the final day because it was F-R-E-E. The gates opened at 5:45am, with the balloon launch beginning at 6:30am. Yes, it was very early.
Mom and I arrived at the airport, still sleepy-eyed, and settled in. Like, I said, we didn’t know what to expect and were a little baffled that only a few balloons were present to the side of us, laying on the ground with no air. I thought we were poised to watch the launch, but as 8:00am approached, I was still confused since they said the race began at 6:30am.
Lo and behold, the crowd got antsy and turned around to look at the horizon behind us. I stood up and joined the crowd. The balloons were on their way! Little did we know, we were sitting at the spot of the fly-over!
Unfortunately, it was difficult to get a clear picture because of the morning haze, but let me assure you that the site of those balloons approaching gave me goosebumps.
There are two goals for the balloon pilots to try and accomplish:
1. Get as close to the pole in the center of the star, and try to toss a ring onto it. The prize for success? $5,000.
2. The second goal was to toss three flags from their balloon and land them in certain areas. Different sections of the ring taped on the ground had different amounts of prize money, with the most being $500.00.
The wind continued to shift making the balloons miss their mark, unable to get a chance for the prize money, so they continued to fly overhead, to their next destination, which was a landing field located in another city north of where we were.
Nearby on the ground, several other balloons put on a show for the crowd, but never intended to actually launch.
The final balloon making its’ approach and flying overhead to show off the Texas Lone Star:
Besides having to get up so early in the morning, this proved to be an excellent adventure. I had a blast and can’t wait to see another hot air balloon race. Should you ever have the chance to do the same, please do!