The first time I attended the Great Forest Park Balloon Race was about 29 years ago when I worked at KMOX Radio. The race is a "hare and hounds" race, and the radio station's balloon served as the "hare" balloon for several years. It would take off first, and the other balloons would then take off and "chase" the hare and attempt to land as close as they could to that balloon. Now, the hare balloon drops a sand bag and the "hound" balloons toss down sand bags and try to get theirs as close as possible to the hare's.
At my first race, I was part of the crew to help inflate the balloon. Very interesting how that's done. Joining us that year was one of our co-workers, Bob Costas. He wasn't there for the inflating, of course, but was there for a personality appearance. Only he was very late. The attendance was so huge that the park was grid-locked. He told us he ended up having to park his car several miles away and running to the park. He had spoken with some police and fire officials who were very worried about the gridlock. If there had been an emergency that year, they would have had a very difficult time getting emergency vehicles in and out of the park.
A number of years later, Energizer Battery developed its "Hot Hare Balloon", which took over serving as the hare balloon.
More information about the bunny balloon can be found here; such as, the fact that the balloon is 15 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty; the ears alone are 60 feet tall; and 84 miles of thread are used in the stitching.
The above photograph is not from today. The conditions were too windy for the bunny rabbit, which did not get to keep going and going and going. In fact, only about 20 out of 70 balloons were able to take off, and most of those were balloons of traditional configurations. The larger balloons and specialty balloons were not able to handle the winds.
But Forest Park couldn't have looks more beautiful for the race; in large part, thanks to the efforts of Forest Park Forever which has been working on beautifying the 1200 acre venue.
I took the Metrolink to get there, and walked in through the Municipal Opera grounds.
I actually passed this fountain on my way out. It's on the eastern edge of the park, near the Kingshighway entrance.
As is the tradition with fairs and festivals, there were pony rides for the kids......
and a variety of meat served on a stick. Not seen here is the tent selling sweat meat on a stick (I have no idea) and, of course, funnel cake. Due to the size of the crowd surrounding the tent, I couldn't get close enough to that to get a picture of that sign. I know that SOME PEOPLE (Bob) have to get their funnel cake fix at such events, but I passed.
Finally, we began to see signs of balloons being inflated......
....and the substitute "hare" balloon took off.
Other balloons started to bubble up from the balloon field .........
and take shape.....
....and one by one they took off.
As the next balloon was being inflated, some young men behind me were talking about it. One said "It's a rat balloon." His friend began to rap about ballooning. Then the balloon took off, and I heard "Oh. RaT balloon. I got nuthin'."
This balloon is named "Rapture". Yeah, I didn't get it either.
This was the "Goldfish" balloon -- as in Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. But it wouldn't turn the right direction for me to get a picture of the logo.
This one is the National Ovarian Cancer Awareness balloon. The sign saying that is on the other side.
As the Mayflower balloon was being inflated, some international students nearby were discussing the name of the balloon and were impressed that we were paying homage to our country's roots with this balloon. An American student with them said, "It's actually a balloon sponsored by Mayflower Moving Company."
They sounded dismayed.
Then came the saga of the Alpo Dog Food Balloon. It almost didn't take off. But when we thought all of the balloons had gone, we were informed that the Alpo pilot decided to give it another go. First, it drunkenly wobbled to the left......
and then the right......
and then W-A-A-A-Y to the right......
.....and finally.... SUCCESS!!!
The race announcer informed us that the winds were taking the balloons over Lambert Airport and that the FAA had given them clearance to fly through that airspace. Can you imagine being in a jetliner and seeing a can of Alpo drift by?
And then the last one launched.
But where do they land? When you think about it, ballooning is a sport based on trespassing. Years ago, the pilots used to keep a bottle of champagne on board and would offer it to farmers when they landed in their fields and trampled their crops. I'm told that now days, they ALSO keep a copy of their insurance on board.