The 29th Pepsi Balloon Race took flight into the skies above New Haven without a hitch on Saturday, September 22, capping a successful weekend that drew huge crowds despite cool, windy conditions on Friday night.
Saturday was a near perfect day, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s.
Twenty-one hot air balloons launched shortly after 5 p.m. in rapid succession in pursuit of the Pepsi “hare” balloon. The pursuing “hound” balloon pilot that drops a bean bag closest to the hare balloon’s landing site is declared the winner, but there was no official winner this year.
“The wind shifted slightly after the hare balloon launched, which took the majority of the balloons slightly south of the scoring field,” said race chairman Brad Zobrist. Closest to the scoring field were Mike Bien of Chesterfield and Kenny Jay of Columbia, but their markers were not within the scoring boundaries.
“Saturday was a great day to fly,” Zobrist said. “All crews reported perfect conditions and soft landings.”
Several hundred people packed New Haven City Park to watch the liftoff for the race after the 2 p.m. Balloon Festival Parade through city streets. Peoples Savings Bank had the winning float, entitled “Honoring People Who Served” and featuring veterans from different branches of service as well as first responders from the community.
The parade theme was “Serving Our Community and Our Country.” The winning organization receives a $300 prize to be donated to the charity of its choosing. There were 30 entries in all, including nearly a dozen floats.
Children attending Saturday’s Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Balloon Festival—held in conjunction with the Pepsi Balloon Race—also enjoyed playing on two bounce houses staffed by members of the New Haven High School Future Business Leaders of America as a fundraiser and community project.
The FBLA reported a steady stream of youngsters at the bounce house/ slide and obstacle course. Pepsi-sponsored events kicked off Friday evening with the annual Balloon Glow at the park.
A huge crowd estimated at more than 3,000 people turned out to see the pilots inflate and illuminate their hot air balloons, backing up traffic on Highway 100 and filling the park to capacity. A favorable weather forecast was spoiled, however, by gusty winds that reached 28 mph and delayed the Glow.
After inflating one balloon around 7 p.m. that was difficult to control in the windy conditions, pilots elected not to attempt any more. A large traffic jam followed as the big crowd began to exit the park. The Balloon Glow offers spectators an up close view of balloons being lighted by their burners. The public is allowed to walk around the balloons and meet the pilots. The popularity of the Glow has grown exponentially since its introduction a few years ago, with larger crowds each year.