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Just one of the many amazing sights at The Great Reno Balloon Race.
Photo: Charlie Johnston
Up in the sky…it’s a bear…it’s a fish…it’s a 15-story pink bunny with dark sunglasses and a marching drum. At The Great Reno Balloon Race, it’s all three. Quirky designs, such as the aforementioned, and almost 100 other balloons were present at the 27th annual event, September 5-7.
Most pilots are return visitors and some have been attending and competing since the first race in 1982. Patrick Prothro of Park City, Utah has flown balloons for 10 years, and September marked his eighth at Reno’s balloon race. Prothro was kind enough to invite me up in his balloon, Bubballoon, during the event. Although it was not my first time above Reno in a balloon, my excitement likely belied that fact. A balloon offers a unique experience unlike that of a plane, helicopter, or high-mountain peak—there is no feeling of disconnect as there often is with the other three. Instead, I felt very much like a part of the city below our basket. It’s enough to make one forget that a large basket is the only protection against a potential 1,000-foot freefall—although I must admit that heights have never made me squeamish.
Highlights at the 2008 event included the perennial favorite Glow Show and Dawn Patrol; crafts, souvenirs, and food at Balloon Boulevard; and the Hare and Hound Competition, the event’s main contest in which the pilots attempt to drop a small bean bag as close to a randomly chosen “X” as they can. Protho, his father Mark, and the rest of the pilots were ostensibly vying for a $20,000 purse in the three-day competition, but for most, it’s not about the money. “Some guys out here are really competitive,” Prothro says. “Dad and I are just out here to have fun.”
This year’s winners of the Hare and Hound Competition were: First place—Dennis Park, of Discovery Bay, California, flew for Silver State Spinecare. Second place—David Lynch, of Temecula, California, flew for C.I.S., Inc. Third place—Anson Stelmak, of Mead, Washington, flew for Grand Sierra Resort & Casino. Winners of the On-Field Competition were: First place—Greg Taggart, of Citrus Heights, California, flew for the University of Nevada, Reno. Second place—David Steidley, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, flew for Shell Oil. Third place—Dominic Chemello, of Temecula, California, flew for the Drummer Family.
The 2009 event is set for September 11-13.