Prepare for liftoff: Longview gets ready for balloon races
By Angela Ward firstname.lastname@example.org
May 6, 2012 at 10:01 p.m.
Longview residents are accustomed to seeing hot air balloons fill the sky during July, but this summer the show should be even more spectacular.
In addition to the Great Texas Balloon Race - an annual event in the community for decades - this is the first of three years in which Longview will host the U.S. National Balloon Championships, said Gai Bennett, one of the organizers of the event.
"It will increase the number of balloons in the sky daily from about 50 to about 75," Bennett said. "It's a tremendous honor to our city to be hosting the nationals and it really shows that we're considered one of the premiere ballooning events in the country."
The national championships will be immediately before the Great Texas Balloon Race. The championships begin July 23 and race events begin July 27.
"There is some overlap between the events and we assume almost all the pilots in town for the championships will stay for the race," Bennett said. "We've received a lot of positive feedback about all the balloon-related things going on this summer."
Almost all the events at both the championships and the race will be things that people can watch or participate in, she said.
"This is a very spectator-friendly week," Bennett said. There will be races that people will be able to see just by looking up and other events out at the airport."
The entertainment lineup for the race includes JB and the Moonshine Band on July 27 and Ronnie Milsap on July 28. Balloon glows, which originated at the Great Texas Balloon Race and are now part of most balloon festivals, will be held on both evenings.
"JB and the Moonshine Band is a very popular up-and-coming band out of Tyler and Milsap is a country music legend who has many fans in East Texas," Bennett said.
While this past summer's record-breaking heat didn't do a lot to dampen attendance at the race, Bennett said she is hoping for slightly cooler weather this year. Most of the events are in the early-morning or evening hours, not during the heat of the day.
"We've had a lot more people from out of this area calling us this year about the balloon race and championships," Bennett said. "However, the tremendous support we get from the Longview community is what really makes this event soar year after year."
Paul Anderson, with the Longview Chamber of Commerce, said the Great Texas Balloon Race benefits the local economy, but cautioned that it's difficult to put an exact number on how much money and visitors the event brings to the city.
"We'll be taking a survey during the year's race, the first one we've done at the event in ten years, which should give us a better idea of where the visitors are coming from and how much money and time they're spending in our community," Anderson said.
Dr. Bill Bussey, a member of the Great Texas Balloon Race board, said that having the national championships here is thrilling.
"This is a serious competition and it speaks highly of our board and our community that we've been selected to host it for the next three years," Bussey said.
The Great Texas Balloon Race has become one of the major events in the American ballooning community, he said.
"Our strength is in our board," Bussey said. "We have our differences, but they're good differences, and we've been successful beyond our wildest dreams."