Stubbs familys sponsorship of pilot one of Natchez balloon races longest-lasting

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &8212; It was 6:15 a.m. Saturday, a time when many non-balloonists have trouble saying a pleasant &8220;good morning.&8221;

Yet Dennis Barrett of Brookhaven had nothing but good things to say about not only the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race, but the Kenneth Stubbs family, which has sponsored him since 1989, just a few years after the race itself began.

&8220;I&8217;ve been coming to the race ever since it started in 1986. I just love the feel, the atmosphere of Natchez,&8221; Barrett said, sitting under the tent where he and other balloon pilots would receive the briefing before their morning flight.

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&8220;And the Stubbs &8230; they seem to enjoy the whole thing so much. Their family and friends come out and basically make a weekend of it.&8221;

Neither Dr. Ken Stubbs nor Barrett knows exactly how the balloon race committee teamed them up. Stubbs explained that when someone wants to sponsor a particular pilot, all that person has to do is make a contribution to the Historic Natchez Foundation, which started the race as a fund-raiser in 1986, and they&8217;re assigned a pilot.

Still, it seems to be a good match, with the Stubbs family sponsoring the veteran pilot for more than a decade.

Stubbs said that each year, enthusiasm about the coming event grounds any thought of discontinuing the sponsorship.

Besides, his four children &8212; the oldest of which is now 25 and thinking of buying a balloon of his own &8212; have made it clear they want to continue the tradition.

Stubbs is drawn to the excitement of every phase of the flight, from preparing the balloon for flight to sometimes riding in the basket himself to chasing the balloon to where it has landed.

&8220;That involves &8230; I won&8217;t say &8216;speeding&8217; &8230; rapidly driving through the city streets until you get to where they are,&8221; Stubbs said with a laugh.

And of course, one perk of sponsoring a balloon is having someone who can take your friends and relatives up in the craft &8212; something the Stubbs family does each year. The family also has a Saturday brunch for Barrett, some other pilots and family and friends each year.

While ballooning and the socializing that goes with it are exciting, Stubbs also admires the skill with which pilots navigate their balloons not only artfully, but safely.

&8220;They put down in close quarters &8212; near houses, in backyards, near power lines,&8221; Stubbs said. &8220;But safety is (Barrett&8217;s) number one priority. He&8217;s a cautious and conservative pilot.&8221;

Finally, Stubbs said he sponsors a balloon because he believes in the event itself, which serves as fun for the locals but also brings in tourists.

&8220;It&8217;s a great thing for Natchez,&8221; Stubbs said. &8220;I love watching the whole thing and the work and organization it takes to make it happen. Natchez has a gem right here.&8221;

Barrett couldn&8217;t agree more. But no matter what race he&8217;s going to &8212; and he goes to about one a month &8212; the main attraction is clear.

&8220;Some guys do this for the competition, but for me, it&8217;s just that I love to fly,&8221; Barrett said.