Great Texas Balloon Race canceled over COVID-19 concerns

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Updated: Apr. 6, 2020 at 12:05 PM CDT
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - The 2020 Great Texas Balloon Race has been canceled. Chairman of the board Rhonda Bullard announced on Facebook that it would be in the best interest of all involved if there was no race this year.

At noon on Monday a live Facebook stream let the world know that hot air balloon pilots would not be taking to the skies over Gregg County this year.

“The Great Texas Balloon Race Officials have decided to cancel GTBR 2020 in the best interests of Gregg County, our sponsors, vendors, pilots, volunteers and attendees,” Bullard said during the stream.

The announcement was made from race founder Bill Bussey’s Longview balloon port.

“Our community has supported the Great Texas Balloon Race for 42 years. We need to be there for the companies that have supported us all those years. And so expecting them, even if we were able at this time that the race would take place, it’s just not the right thing to do this year. We need to not ask for more from our community,” Bullard said.

And as for setting a different date, well the pilots:

“Fly in a circuit, for lack of a better word, and so there were no dates available where we could get the same top-rated line and reschedule them this year,” Bullard explained.

Pilots can’t just show up and compete. There is a qualification process that’s:

“Based on their ranking in the national eligibility list that the FAA puts out every year. And how they’ve finished in other races across the nation, and how they’ve finished in our race the last several years,” Bullard said.

And this year, after four decades, they were finally able to move the date from the heat of July to June 19-21, but even so:

“I’m not worried about this year. I’m worried about the longevity of the Great Texas Balloon Race. I want us to be around for another forty years,” Bullard added.

Everyone hopes COVID-19 will have run its course by mid-June or before, but no one is making that prediction at this point. It’s up in the air.

Bullard said anyone who has purchased advance tickets on line will be automatically refunded to their credit or debit cards.

KLTV's Jamey Boyum speaks with Rhonda Bullard about the decision

From the Great Texas Balloon Race:

Great Texas Balloon Race officials have decided it is in the best interest of Gregg County, our sponsors, vendors, pilots, volunteers, and attendees to cancel the June 19-21st event.

This decision is not easy but necessary. As our Country, County, and City continue to face uncertain times in the coming weeks, we feel it prudent to give our very loyal sponsors and supporters, Entertainment, Pilots and Special Shape balloons a decision now rather than later. Given the circumstances, we feel being proactive is in the best interest of our community.

The GREAT TEXAS BALLOON RACE 2020 pilots come from across the United States and England. Food and Arts & Crafts vendors, the carnival and other attractions travel in from near and far. The restaurants that so generously provide meals to the pilots, sponsors and volunteers are struggling during this crisis; donations moving forward will only add to their burdens. Volunteers who manage the event take vacation to do so; those vacation days will not be available when this crisis is over. This decision best protects and supports everyone concerned. We can not in all good conscience ask our community and local businesses to give anything right now.

The greatest way to honor the integrity and rich heritage of GREAT TEXAS BALLOON RACE is to be fiscally responsible moving forward. We are confident our sponsors will stand with us, the pilots will return, the vendors will come back, and the community will once again enjoy the GREAT TEXAS BALLOON RACE next year if we are fiscally responsible now.

Negotiations are progressing with the outstanding Entertainment lineup for 2020 to recommit to the June 18-20,2021 event. GREAT TEXAS BALLOON RACE officials are in the process of contacting all partners to carry their commitments forward in the same manner.

The Great Texas Balloon Race pilots are the best of the best and compete at events year-round. There is no open weekend in 2020 to reschedule the event. Any tickets already purchased on Outhouse will be refunded.

Great Texas Balloon Race appreciates the support of Judge Bill Stoudt and the County Commissioners, and Mayor Andy Mack for their continued support and counsel in making this decision. Great Texas Balloon Race is the oldest annual event in our community and will be back strong in 2021. We stand ready to support our community through this pandemic.

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