The 40th Anniversary Great Forest Park Balloon Race

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) -Brilliant colored balloons brightened a cloudy afternoon in Forest Park Saturday as the 40th annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race got underway. The event draws hot air balloon pilots from across the nation to participate in an invitation only race.

The pilots, "have to be good to fly out of the city and clear the city," said race co-founder John Marlow, himself a pilot. "Most balloon races are held in deserts and huge fields and that sort of thing," Marlow explained.

An estimated 75-thousand spectators attended the Friday night balloon glow event as well as Saturday's race in the center of St. Louis City's Forest Park. This is the nation's second oldest balloon race.

"The balloons are awesome, awesome," remarked one visitor who has been coming for thirty years. One group came at mid-morning to secure a front row spot for a picnic lunch complete with champagne.

Jay Levin, a crew member for two pilots from Champaign, IL, as been participating for 13 years. "I haven't missed a year since and it just gets in your blood and there's a passion about it; it's wonderful," he exclaimed.

Seventy balloons rose in three waves from a high point in the park as propane heaters warmed the air inside the giant spheres or characters. The Energizer Bunny balloon again played the role of "hare," setting off first. Each of the other balloons followed chasing the hare to a marked spot in Ladue. There pilots dropped bags of bird seed at the target.

The winner, Scott Rooge of St. Louis dropped his bag fifteen feet from the banner target. Rooge was piloting the Purina Pro Plan #1 balloon. Shane Robinson of Springfield, MO flying for Maher Chiropractic came in at twenty feet. David Rapp, of St. Louis, brought the Dierberg's balloon in at third place with a drop twenty-three feet from the target.

A variety of corporations sponsored balloons including Energizer, PNC, Wells Fargo, Peabody, Mercy Children's Hospital, Six Flags and the Missouri Lottery. FOX2 and KPLR were among the media sponsors.

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