by Warren Hardaker
Billed as the largest one-day balloon meet in the US, this event attracts more than 60 hot air balloons from around the country, including many commercial balloons of all shapes and sizes .
The night before the launch, a glow is held around the pools and hills of the former Worldís Fair pavilion. This is the first drive-by glow I have ever witnessed. Besides the thousands of pedestrians roaming all over this unique setting, thousands more simply view it from the comfort of their own vehicles before taking their pajamad kids home to beddy bye. The glow lasted over an hour- plenty of time for all to enjoy the spectacle.
The next day at 4:50 p.m. (yes, thatís afternoon) the hare balloon lifted off before a crowd estimated at 100,000. And what a hare it was-Ralston Purinaís humongous pink Energizer Bunny. Forest Park is in central St. Louis (yes, thatís near downtown), and the large printed program had tales of landings in past years at golf courses, the backyards of famous people (Chuck Berry for one), and at the home of a pair of charming octogenarian ladies who had never been on a train or even seen an airplane up close.
After the hare launched, entries took off in three waves. Soon Pepsi, Anheuser-Busch, Eveready Batteries, Kool, Early Times, Korbel, Wehrenberg Theaterís large popcorn bag, Remax, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, United Van Lines truck, and many floating billboards for local banks, restaurants, and other businesses dotted the skyline.
Alas, whatever breeze there was soon died, stranding balloons all over the city. The big bunny put his big pink feet down in another nearby park, followed by those who were close enough to keep a good bead on him, but the nightly news showed many pictures of these big giants floating by office buildings and setting down in busy intersections, at fast food parking lots, and amid soccer games, much to the delight of those spectators who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
When it was all said and done, the winner was Ron Martin of Winfield B.C., flying his Korbel Champagne bottle. Second went to J.W.ís Steakhouse, at the Marriott/Airport, an entry flown by Mike Quartuccio from St. Louis.
Balloons were not the only colerfull objects at th Great Forest Park Balloon Race