Each year the skies across Gregg County are filled with giant orbs of differing colors as pilots from around the nation compete against one another in the Great Texas Balloon Race.

But how and why did the race get started?

Gai Bennett, the media spokeswoman for the annual event, said it all began as a publicity stunt in 1978.

Bill Bussey, D.D.S., a world-record hot-air balloon pilot, Frankie Parson Riggins and Mary LeTourneau, Longview Mall managers, devised the plan to advertise the mall's opening by Bussey flying above the city of Longview with a banner about the mall on his balloon.

The next year, Bussey had a few balloons lift off from the back parking lot of the mall

Ms. Bennett said a few years later, Bill Stroudt, of Stroh's Brewery, joined in the fun and the event became larger until it had to be moved from the mall area to Stroh's Brewery because of the large crowds.

The one-time stunt then grew into an annual event drawing balloonists from all over the world and crowds from across the nation.

Ms. Bennett said the 2013 competition had 51 balloon pilots competing with another 11 joining in the competition at the close of the week.

Then there were the 10 balloons sure to draw every kid's eye, the theme balloons, which included the Old Woman in the Shoe and Spider Pig.

"This is a really big deal because we have the top balloon pilots in the USA competing and they are fighting for the right to go the World Championships next year in Brazil," Ms. Bennett said of the 2013 competition.



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