The 2011 Great Reno Balloon Race officially begins with a mass ascension at 6:45 a.m. today at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park, but some Reno and Sparks residents got a preview of the balloons Thursday morning when a few of the pilots were gracious enough to take members of the media into the sky.
The Hot Flash Balloon Team from Dayton took the Sparks Tribune for a sail. Pilot Brenda Hungerford has been flying since 2003, but said she and her husband, Jay, who serves as the balloon team’s crew chief, have been involved with ballooning since 1999.
The couple took their first balloon ride almost by accident, but Jay said he’s glad they did it.
“It’s completely changed our lives … for the better,” he said.
Jay and Brenda went to see a hot air balloon at the urging of a family member in 1999, but did not plan to ride in it.
“Nobody told the pilot we weren’t going for a ride,” Brenda said. “When she got ready to take off, she told us to get in.”
“Then she told us, ‘Get in now,’ ” Jay said, and the rest is history.
Brenda said the pilot who took them on their first flight taught her to fly and sold her a balloon.
“I told Jay, ‘We are buying a balloon and moving to Nevada,’ ” Brenda said. “We lived in Sacramento at the time.”
Now Brenda, Jay and their crew travel the country attending balloon races. The Hot Flash crew always attends the Reno event.
“We never miss this balloon race,” said Andy “Bubba” White, crew member.
And how could you miss the balloon race in Reno? The Great Reno Balloon Race was named one of the top five Reno events by topeventsusa.com and the No. 1 hot air balloon race in the U.S. by americasbestonline.net.
The event has grown from just 20 balloons in 1982 to almost 100 in 2011. This year is especially significant in that it is the 30th anniversary of the balloon race, and because the event is taking place during the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
“The 9/11 anniversary often falls during the balloon race and we are honored to host this day of remembrance for our community,” said Pilar Aldecoaotalora, president of the balloon race board of trustees.
The community is invited to a 9/11 commemoration ceremony at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, the last day of the balloon race. An honor guard will present the colors, and Gov. Brian Sandoval will give a brief address. Local dignitaries such Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, Washoe County Commission Chairman John Breternitz and local law enforcement officials will be in attendance.
When the balloons take off on Sunday, they all will bear American flags, filling the sky with red, white and blue.
Admission to the balloon races is free of charge. Attendees are urged to arrive at Rancho San Rafael early (as early as 5 a.m.), and to dress in layers.
For a full schedule of balloon race events, visit www.renoballoon.com.