GREGG COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - The forty-second Great Texas Balloon Race is a wrap. Although well attended, the winners were determined by one flight rather than three.
After the morning pilot’s briefing balloonists were lined up, waiting for 6:45 am and the word on Sunday’s flight. Shortly after that Canton pilot Steve Lombardi, and the others got the bad news.
“We had to scrub this morning. The scud layer is moving in, that’s one of the concerns. Plus the winds aloft were very strong as well, so when you put the two together; safety first, and so it’s just one of those days when you have to cancel, unfortunately,” Lombardi said.
So they had to settle for a:
“One shot weekend, so we had one great flight at least,” Lombardi pointed out.
Pilots were disappointed but they have an old saying:
“I’d rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air than in the air wishing I was on the ground,” Lombardi quoted.
So several pilots stood their balloons to give the crowd a photo-op again, but Steve and many other pilots know about East Texas Weather.
“We started earlier in the week with this cold front and you almost needed a jacket the first morning we were here but it was a gorgeous morning and then all of a sudden the winds started shifting and bringing wind out of the south bringing scud layers and strong level jet streams,” Lombardi explained.
So the best score on Friday held over to Sunday, and that was Steve Wilkinson out of California. He says it was:
“Interesting weather the whole time, but we got the first three tasks in and I just happened to come out on top. So I did the weather dance the rest of the days and here we are,” Wilkinson said.
At the awards ceremony, there’s a cash prize, a trophy, a cowboy hat and:
“Guns, you get boots and a belt buckle,” Wilkinson smiled.
And speaking of guns, the Young Guns race winner was Andrew Petrehn who comes from a family of balloon pilots. In that younger pilot’s race, he just edged out local Blake Aldridge.
The balloons came down at the forty-second Great Texas Balloon Race a final time in the July heat, and that’s literally since next year the race will be moved to the third week in June.
According to race founder Bill Bussey, this was the most attended race ever, with record-breaking crowds at the evening balloon glows and concerts.