9th Annual Kalamazoo Balloon Fest | Special Recap ft. World-Renowned Pilot Derrick Jones


SPECIAL RECAP: 9th Annual Kalamazoo Balloon Fest 
ft. Zeigler Hot Air Balloon Pilot Derrick Jones

25 Balloons took to the Sky at the 9th Annual Kalamazoo Balloon Fest

The 9th Annual Kalamazoo Balloon Fest, presented by Zeigler Auto Group, was this past weekend from Friday, August 27th to Sunday, August 29th at Gull Meadow Farms. The event featured a media day, two balloon glows, four balloon flights, a classic car show, and more family fun. Derrick Jones, Zeigler Maserati Alfa Romeo of Grandville, gives us an inside look at the event and his experience as a world-renowned air balloon pilot in this week's special recap.

(IMAGE: 9th Annual Kalamazoo Balloon Fest Balloon Glow on Saturday, August 28, 2021)

KALAMAZOO (August 30, 2021) -The 9th Annual Kalamazoo Balloon Fest, presented by Zeigler Auto Group, took place this past weekend with 25 balloons taking flight and tons of fun for the whole family. The event, which took place at Gull Meadow Farms, featured a media day, two balloon glows, four balloon flights, a classic car show, and much more!

Friday, August 27th
The Kalamazoo Balloon Fest hosted a media day with the balloons grounded for pictures


At night, the festival held its first Balloon Glow.

Saturday, August 28th
The Kalamazoo Balloon Fest held a Balloon Glow & Car Show


Sunday, August 29th
The Kalamazoo Balloon Fest held its final flights & Balloon Glow


(IMAGE: Derrick Jones preparing a balloon for flight)

Wanting more insight into the world of ballooning, we sat down with our very own Derrick Jones, of Zeigler Maserati Alfa Romeo of Grandville, to talk to us about the event, other recent events like it and his overall experience as a world-renowned balloon pilot. Besides being in charge of the Kalamazoo Balloon Fest and other events like it in the area, Derrick had the innovative idea of bringing the Zeigler Auto Group/ Zeigler Motorsports balloon to life. 

"I came up with this idea not just to share my passion for ballooning, but also to represent the innovation that we so deeply value at Zeigler Automotive Group," he said recently in a press release about the Zeigler balloon's first flight. "I was excited to see everything come to fruition and to see this dream come to life."

"At Zeigler we are driven to empower our team members to think outside the box while giving them the tools to execute projects they truly believe in. To me this is the epitome of one of those moments that has knocked it right out of the ballpark," said Aaron Zeigler, president and owner of Zeigler Auto Group

Derrick has been a member of the Balloon Federation of America since 1995, having received the BFA Regional Award, the Spirit of Ballooning Award, and the coveted President's Award. As distinguished ambassador to ballooning for the organization, he also hosted the US National Balloon Championships from 2008 to 2011.

He is also part of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale since 2011, having been one of only three since 1972 to host the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in the United States, choosing Battle Creek in 2012. This was after participating in the 9-day Pre-World Event in Switzerland in 2010, where he and team outbid Germany and France for the rights to host the 20th World Hot Air Balloon Championship, representing 28 countries, 135 balloons and pilots.

The accomplished balloon pilot also flew the Chevrolet balloon for almost eight years, starting when he was just 24 years old. However, his biggest dream as a kid was flying the Kellogg's Tony the Tiger balloon, something he actually accomplished and went on to do for nearly four years from 2008 to 2012. Although, he recalls the many naysayers at ever point of his career telling him he was dreaming too big, doing too much, and that he was simply too young, he says the secret to get through it all was simply not to quit, to be persistent, and to have patience.

As for how he got started, Derrick started crewing at just nine years old, took his first flight at 12, and received his student pilot certificate at 14 -becoming one of the youngest pilots in the Great Lakes Area at the time. Later he received his private pilot license at 16 and his commercial one at just 21.

"Have a vision. See the success. See the end result. Don't ever lose sight of it."


After flying for several companies over the years, he went on to start a nonprofit that oversees several free balloon events in Michigan. This includes the Kalamazoo Balloon Fest from this past weekend, which he has done since 2013. Another notable event is the Hudsonville Balloon Days event, which he has overseen since 2020, and takes place during Father's Day Weekend. And finally, coming up in the third weekend of September is the Balloons over Bay Harbor event, which he has directed since 2019.

Derrick says many of the different things he has learned from ballooning he also applies to his success in the auto industry. Having started at just 17 years old as a customer service rep, Derrick has held many titles in car sales, new and used car management, and finance before setting into his current role at Zeigler Maserati Alfa Romeo of Grandville.

(Image: Jim Engel Kalamazoo Balloon Fest Facebook)


Zeigler Automotive Group is one of the largest privately-owned dealer groups in the U.S. with 78 franchises across 35 locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Vehicle brands represented include all of the domestic and the majority of the imported manufacturers.


Besides its extensive automotive portfolio, the organization owns and operates Zeigler Motorsports, an 85,000-square-foot motorsports dealership and action park, offering 19 different powersports brands, plus its own onsite restaurant: Trak Houz Bar & Grill. Additionally, Zeigler Motorsports houses the Elevate Leadership & Team Building Academy, an executive training company.


The Kalamazoo-based dealer group also owns and operates Zeigler Pre-Owned of Chicago, a Carquest Auto Parts store, three Byrider franchises, three finance companies, several insurance firms, and a leasing firm.


Founded in 1975, the organization employs over 2,300 people, ranking among the top 1% of automotive dealers in the nation with estimated annual sales of $2.2 billion for 2022. The family-owned and operated company is well known for its commitment to both customer service and employee satisfaction. Zeigler is regularly recognized as one of the Best and Brightest Companies to Work for in the Nation, also earning similar accolades in Chicago and Michigan.