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Balloonist learns he won race
Mix-up traced to coordinates
Balloon WEB
Daryl Tatum, seen flying his hot air balloon in 2010, recently won the 2012 Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race. - photo by File photo

A local hot air balloonist fared better in a recent competition than he first thought.

Daryl Tatum, owner of Balloons Over Georgia in Cumming, competed in the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race on May 31 and June 1.

He thought he had tied for second place, but on Tuesday learned that he had actually won the race, which takes balloonists from the northeast Georgia mountain town of Helen to Interstate 95 near the Georgia coast.

The winner is determined by whoever crosses the finish line first, or if no one makes it that far, who travels the farthest from Helen.

“I don’t know if you want to call it a comedy of errors or what,” Tatum joked about the original mistake in the rankings.

He explained that race organizers had confused his final landing coordinates with those of Steve Stokoe, who they had named the winner over the weekend.

Tatum had actually won by about half a mile.  

“It was just a fluke,” Tatum said. “[The organizer] thought I’d be upset, but I was like, ‘Heck, I’m just glad I won.’ It’s not like I missed the chance to make a big speech or something. I wouldn’t have done that anyway.”

Tatum said the standings mishap came on the heels of what was already an unusual race.

He explained that due to wind and other weather factors, most teams ended up not racing until the final hours of the competition.

“It was a two-hour shootout for the win,” he said. “It was like having a caution flag 10 laps from the end of a NASCAR race.”

Held since 1974, the race also includes a hot air balloon festival with activities for the public, including tethered rides up to 75 feet off the ground.

Between the race and festival, about 25 balloonists typically take part.

Tatum, who has competed in the race every year since 2003 — winning it in 2009 and 2010 and tying for first in 2008 — said for him, it’s not about winning anyway.

“The race is really just for fun, there’s no prize money … it’s really just a tradition thing,” he said. “It’s really just a way for me to keep my skills up and do things you wouldn’t normally get to do with a balloon.”