Final Preps Made For Great Texas Balloon Race

It's "all systems go", for an annual event that brings thousands of visitors to east Texas. The stage is set for one of east Texas' biggest tourist draws the great Texas balloon race. Vendors and organizers were laying out the midway today at Longview's East Texas Regional airport for the 28th annual "Great Texas Balloon Race."

Over 70 balloons will be featured at this years event, along with games and other activities. The pilots and sponsors will be welcomed tonight at Maude Cobb at the annual dinner reception.  Registration had barely opened for pilots today, and already many were studying maps for flying.  Max Mitchell of Champagne Illinois is easily has one of the most recognizable balloons in the country, "Felix the cat", and has appeared at the race for over ten years, and has developed a strange following.

"There's a subculture a cult out there of Felix followers people with little Felix trinkets, Felix tattoos, and there's also a theme song for Felix" Mitchell says.

He's what organizers call one of the characters that make the event fun. Missouri native Terry Montague fly's for therapeutic reasons.

"It's time for me to get away from work and get into something fun, I'd love to be up there for hours and hours on end and not come down" says Montague.

Both represent a loyal following of pilots from across the country that say the great Texas balloon race is one of the best in the country.  

     The balloon fly over the city will begin at 6:30 tom morrow morning. At 4:00, tomorrow afternoon, gates open. At 6:00, "Wes Jeans" will perform at center stage. And they'll be a parachute drop by the green beret parachute team from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At 7:30,  the great Texas ball drop benefiting the arc of Gregg county. And at 8:15, opening flag ceremonies and the sport balloon and special shapes balloon glow.

    Bob Hallmark reporting.