We love seeing balloons in, around and certainly over Longview, and an announcement this past week by the Great Texas Balloon Race means there will be more of those sights to love.
The race’s board said in a statement Friday that after a successful modified event in June, all flights, features and entertainment during the 2022 event will take place within the city limits of Longview, and we couldn’t be more excited.
The distinctly Longview-turned-Gregg County event has been bringing smiles to faces in the area for decades since it began in 1978 as a promotion for the Longview Mall. An event that inaugural year was the brainchild of local pilot and dentist Dr. Bill Bussey, then-mall manager Frankie Parson and Mary Wade LeTourneau, who was the mall’s marketing director at the time.
Twenty balloons with celebrities in their baskets made the short flight from a 5-acre plot behind the mall to Oak Forest Country Club. According to Great Texas Balloon Race historical documents, the scene drew so much interest that organizers were “blown away” by attendance.
Since then, the balloon race has moved and grown, drawing more of the top pilots from around the country (and beyond) and offering more in terms of features and entertainment. The Great Texas Balloon Race moved to the East Texas Regional Airport in 1990. It’s been exciting to see the additions over time as special shapes balloons, headliners and vendors have mirrored our changing times.
Organizers this year were — like those in charge of so many other events — forced to offer a modified Great Texas Balloon Race due to COVID-19. The event’s emphasis was again placed on the colorful balloons. Competition flights took place on three mornings all over the city. There were also two evening events — inflations one day and flights the other — at locations inside Longview.
Board members said the response from residents, pilots and sponsors was all favorable, which led them to explore making the change more permanent. And they have the backing of Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt and Longview Mayor Andy Mack.
Mack called the race one of the things that makes Longview unique and special, and said, “We’re excited that the event organizers have decided to host more aspects of the event within Longview this coming year.”
“The race started inside the city of Longview, then it outgrew itself,” Stoudt said. “But as they’ve changed the format and ballooning has changed, having it back inside the city makes more sense — number one. And number two, we’ve got economic development plans for the future for that side of the airport. So, at some point in time, the balloon race would have to move anyhow.”
We also heard from many residents during this year’s competition in June who were happy to be able to see the balloons on their daily routes and commutes — and over places that are part of their lives. We saw anecdotes from people who were overjoyed that a balloon landed near their home and others who made signs to show appreciation for the pilots and crew.
We couldn’t be happier to have the balloon race coming full circle and landing squarely back inside the city of Longview. We look forward to again seeing balloons flying for multiple days over our city and for the return of the balloon glow — an experience that began in Longview and is now enjoyed at ballooning events worldwide — here in The Balloon Race Capital of Texas.