The Great Texas Balloon Race Story

Our History Is Rich As We Celebrated Our 40th Year in 2017!


In 1978, the Great Texas Balloon Race was born from an agreement between Dr. Bill Bussey, D.D.S., a world-record hot air balloon pilot, and Frankie Parson Riggins and Mary LeTourneau, Longview Mall managers.

To advertise the mall's opening, Bussey draped a Longview Mall banner on his hot air balloon and flew over the city of Longview. Two years later, Bill Stoudt and Stroh's joined forces with the Longview Mall and the first-ever Balloon Glow was held on the mall's south parking lot.

Along with other pilots, Dr. Bussey created an evening attraction designed to delight the crowds. Tethered balloons were illuminated setting off a spectacular display of light.

The first-ever "balloon glow" became an instant success and is held both Friday and Saturday evenings. Whatever modifications have been made at balloon events around the world, you can know that this crowd-pleasing event began in Longview, Texas.

In 1985, due to ever-increasing attendance, the launch site was moved to the Stroh Brewery complex.

From 1987-1989, the race was not held. But when it returned in 1990, with the support of Gordon Lively of Lively Olds-Cadillac-GMC, the race was moved to the East Texas Regional Airport south of Longview. The airport is still the home of the race today.

The most exciting race is known by pilots as the Controlled Navigational Trajectory Event. For years the "Ring Toss" was our Controlled Navigational Trajectory Event. Each pilot had only one chance in each race to "steer" their balloon toward a 12 inch ring atop a 20-foot pole.

In 2012, the pole was successfully "ringed" nine times by competitors.  

The Ring Toss has been replaced by "Ducks on a Pond" which has the pilots pass over a boat in the target field and toss a rubber ducky into the boat. 

The Great Texas Balloon Race is a Balloon Federation of America event and hosted the BFA's United States National Championship competition for 2012-2015. For these four years, the national competition brought an additional three days of competition flights to the East Texas area. Outside of national competition years, the GTBR invites 50 sport and special-shaped hot air balloons. The pilots compete for the Texas State Championship. If you've never seen these colorful, graceful giants in the sky, watch out! The beauty and elegance will have you hooked for life.