Editorial: In 40 years, the Great Texas Balloon Race has come to define Longview

Balloon Glow at the Great Texas Balloon Race Saturday, July 29, 2017. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

By this afternoon, the skies over Gregg County will seem barren. Instead of dozens of colorful hot air balloons floating overhead, we will be back to seeing just their backdrop — blue skies and clouds.

It seems to us just about the only drawback of the Great Texas Balloon Race each summer is that, like any great annual event, it eventually must come to a close.

But as the small city that has been built across the grounds at East Texas Regional Airport over the past month is disassembled and packed away by an army of volunteers, the organizers of this year's event once again should be feeling great pride in having mounted one of the greatest spectacles in East Texas.

In fact, this time around they should be taking a special bow for having kept the Great Texas Balloon Race vital and successful for 40 years, for making it a festival of sights and sounds that has literally put Longview and Gregg County on the world map of competitive ballooning.

As always, the crowds were huge, the competition flights were exciting, the balloon glows were stunning and the weather was as friendly as we can remember for a race weekend.

Not bad for what began in the late 1970s as a promotional event to draw crowds to the grand opening of the Longview Mall.

This weekend has been a fitting capper for the 40th year, one that reminded us the GTBR has grown over the decades into a major draw built around competitive ballooning but with enough diversity to keep folks happy even when the weather keeps pilots and balloons on the ground. That happened Friday morning, but there was still plenty to see and do. The fleet of special shapes balloons inflated that morning at locations across the area, and by Friday evening, the festival grounds at the airport were open and live music and the world famous balloon glow went on just as planned.

Race Chairman Dan Droege, the hard-working board of directors he leads and the hundreds of volunteers who made this 40th year so special should take a collective bow for continuing this tradition of excitement and fun. An event does not grow to such proportions or last so long without a lot of good teamwork. Nor does it thrive without good leadership.

The Great Texas Balloon Race has evolved into something wonderful for all involved. That includes the balloonists in the air, the volunteers and fans on the ground, the area hospitality industry that profits from it and even residents who get to see the lovely orbs floating overhead each summer.

Over 40 years, the Great Texas Balloon Race has become one of the defining events that make up the fabric of Longview. We are looking forward with great anticipation to seeing what it brings us in the coming decades.

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