Home / HIGHLIGHTS / 40 Years of the Great Texas Balloon Race: Each summer gigantic hot air balloons fill the sky over East Texas in a spectacular sight to behold

40 Years of the Great Texas Balloon Race: Each summer gigantic hot air balloons fill the sky over East Texas in a spectacular sight to behold

BY TAMRA BOLTON | PHOTOS FROM THE TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH // July/August 2017

What started as a publicity stunt 40 years ago is now one of the premier hot air balloon races in the United States. In 1978, Dr. Bill Bussey, a Longview, Texas, dentist, came up with the crazy notion that the opening of the city’s mall would get a lot more attention if he promoted it by flying his colorful hot air balloon over the city.
It worked. Two years later, Bussey, businessman Bill Stoudt and representatives of Stroh brewing company, organized a hot air balloon competition in the mall’s parking lot.
Bussey had an idea. He thought the event would attract bigger crowds if the balloon crews fired up their burners at night and lit up the balloons with blasts from the flames. The now famous balloon glow was born.
From humble beginnings, the Great Texas Balloon Race now draws the best hot air balloon crews from around the world and has even hosted the U.S. National Championships, the top hot air balloon competition in the nation.
More than 100 balloon crews are expected to take part in this year’s Great Texas Balloon Race taking place July 28 to 30. Organizers promise it will be one of the best ever. Events at the East Texas Regional Airport in Longview will include balloon glows, displays of specialty shape balloons, concerts and competitions.

LOOKING BACK

This year, the GTBR celebrates 40 years of hot air ballooning in Longview. To mark the occasion, IN Magazine caught up with Dr. Bussey
Bussey says that 40 years ago he never envisioned that the Great Texas Balloon Race would become so popular and that the balloon glow he originated would end up becoming a part of hot air balloon events around the world.
A hot air balloon competitor in national and international events for decades, Bussey has been awarded the prestigious Montgolfier Diploma, the highest International Award for ballooning. For his dedication to the sport and the innovations he’s brought to ballooning, Bussey was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2007. He is the only hot air balloon pilot to receive this recognition.

EMOTIONAL MOMENTS

Bussey says his favorite thing about the Great Texas Balloon Race is seeing the “smiles on the faces of small children and grandparents … and everyone in between” who come to see the balloons.
One of his favorite memories over the years is from 1984 when the Olympic torch came through Longview on its way to Los Angeles prior to the Olympic Games. “The torch, bearing the flame from Greece lit each hot air balloon burner that year … very emotional.”
He also becomes emotional when he talks about the event’s annual opening ceremony. “We do an all-burn (all the hot air balloon crews hit their burners) on the final note of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ during the opening ceremony. It gives me goosebumps every time and makes me feel proud.”
Bussey is “grateful that the balloon race has brought Longview and East Texas so much attention.” He wants to see it continue as one of the top hot air ballooning events.
“Hopefully, it will keep going long after I am gone.”

Race SCHEDULE

July 28

6:30 a.m.: Competition flight
4:00 p.m.: Gates open at East Texas Regional Airport
8:15 p.m.: Special Shapes Spectacular
8:45 p.m.: Opening ceremony
8:50 p.m.: Balloon Glow
9:30 p.m.: Concert

July 29

5:45 a.m.: Gates open at airport
6:30 a.m.: Competition flight
4 p.m.: Events resume at airport
6:30 p.m.: concert
8:15 p.m.: Special Shapes Spectacular
8:45 p.m.: Opening ceremony
8:50 p.m.: Balloon Glow
9:30 p.m.: Travis Tritt in concert

July 30

5:45 a.m.: Gates open at airport
6:30 a.m.: Competition flight

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