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Goodyear Senior VP Paul Fitzhenry [dark blue shirt] in conversation with Race Series Executive Director Anne Bitong [hands behind her back], Race Co-Founder Jeannine Marks [hands in front of her] and Race Co-Founder Steve Marks [forward right] and author [forward left]

Akron Marathon And Goodyear Gain Through Collaboration


Akron, Ohio

It is widely appreciated that corporate / road racing partnerships - when thoughtfully-assembled - have, of course, been successful. Take, for example, Twin Cities In Motion which works together with medical device manufacturer Medtronic - with its Operational Offices based in Minneapolis - to present the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Weekend - one of the most respected and successful road race weekends in the country. The event annually features many of America's top road racers, has broad-based runner support, and frequently hosts national road racing championships. But when the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation - now in its 13th year of presenting the wildly-successful Akron Marathon - expands to create the Rubber City Race Series which includes a late-summer half marathon and 10K event in collaboration with the Akron-headquartered Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, the outcome is not simply another mutually-beneficial venture between a well-run, charitably-minded road racing organization and a corporate icon. The event - which features a distinctly Midwestern feel - creates a special lift for both organizations, its respective leadership teams, the participating athletes...and the entire community as well.

Last week, Goodyear and the Rubber City Race Series came together to host a media day to showcase the upcoming Goodyear Half Marathon and 10K at the access-restricted Proving Grounds and Test Track on Goodyear's newly-reinvigorated Akron-based campus. The scene was festive and nothing was left to chance. Set up in the middle of the test track, the media tent offered catered food, an upbeat sound track of Akron's own Black Keys, logoed media kits, and branded swag for the scribes. Adventuresome thrill-seekers in the group lined up to take driver-chauffeured, high-speed, white-knuckle spins around the test course. The circuits in the souped-up Z06 Corvette and the Z28 Camaro proved to be like sophisticated amusement park rides for adults. Back in the tent, spokespersons for the Series and Goodyear provided insights on the evolution of this road race / corporate partnership while digital recorders and TV cameras rolled on.



Z28 Camaro burning rubber on Goodyear Test Track


Between media sessions, Goodyear senior vice president Paul Fitzhenry outlined how this collaboration evolved. "First and foremost, we have an active program of engagement in our community and we're always looking for new opportunities. The Akron Marathon event has been synonymous with the highest profile running event for years," explained the leader of Goodyear's global communications. "Besides its popularity, the initiative this year to expand beyond one race to a three-race series and to bring one of those races into our own back yard in the east end of Akron really was something we explored and thought, 'This would be great.'"

The August 15th inaugural race will start and finish at Goodyear's gleaming new corporate headquarters with the Goodyear blimp - the greatest corporate symbol ever - flying overhead. In many respects, the two races will serve as the perfect celebratory capstone to another collaborative process - a nearly decade-long joint initiative by Goodyear and Akron's city leaders to provide 21st century facilities for perhaps Akron's most visible global player while at the same time ensuring Goodyear's recommitment to maintain its headquarters in The Rubber City. How much did that important unison step by Goodyear and Akron play a role in the emergence of this new corporate / road race partnership? "I don't think it was a huge factor. I think the bigger factor is we are always looking for unique experiences that we can get involved with that support what we want to do in the community and also can involve our own associates," offered Fitzhenry who noted that 150 Goodyear employees will run on race day while another 250 will serve as volunteers. "We have 3000 people working here on our campus in the east end of Akron. And so when we looked at an opportunity to involve our associates to showcase our new headquarters and to do so in a way that continues our engagement with the community, that really was the secret sauce, if you will."

Distinctive pioneering has always been a hallmark of races presented by the Akron Marathon Charitable Corporation, and the inaugural Goodyear half marathon and 10K is no exception. "We knew that Goodyear had been a long-time supporter of NASCAR so we really wanted to kind of add the NASCAR look and feel to our race," explained Executive Director Anne Bitong. "So we came up with the 'Burn Rubber' concept. We are hoping all of runners are going to hashtag 'burn rubber' on race day. A lot of our event swag is going to feature that phrasing - burn rubber here in Akron on the official proving grounds and test track of Goodyear's world headquarters," added Bitong, who heads up all three races of the Rubber City Race Series. "And it's been something that's been really well received and embraced by the Goodyear team - from the top executive team on down to the associates that are going to be volunteering on race day wearing pit crew shirts. So we are really taking the NASCAR theme to the next level in our foot race."

Near the end of both races, the course will take the runners around the 1.25 mile banked test track in the restricted Goodyear proving grounds. "This is the centerpiece," noted Race Director Brian Polen. "This will cause runners to fly from California to Akron, Ohio to run this race."

"There are very few Goodyear people who have ever been inside the track," added Fitzhenry in noting that race day will be the first time the high-security proving grounds have ever been open to the public. Bitong was quick to add yet another novel feature of the test track's role as part of the course. "We have a 'race within a race' with runners doing a 1.25 mile lap of the restricted Goodyear Proving Grounds here in Akron. - and they'll get an official test track time," said Bitong in outlining how timing mats will mark each runners entrance onto and exit from the track. "The man and woman with the fastest test track times will each receive gift certificates that will allow them secure a set of free tires courtesy of Goodyear."

Series leadership is proud and excited about the partnership that has been forged with one of the world's most respected corporations. "The partnership we have with Goodyear has really been a work in progress. They have been a loyal sponsor of our marquee race in September [the Akron Marathon] and it is going into its 13th year," explained Series leader Bitong as she outlined how the joint project came to be. "And when we knew we wanted to add new events to our schedule, we knew that Goodyear would be a targeted partner of ours - not only because they had been a long-time supporter, but because we knew that we wanted to feature a new section of town that we typically hadn't done in our marquee race [the late-September Akron Marathon]. Bitong also cited other positive elements that helped lead to this collaboration. "We also knew that there was going to be development occurring in the east end of Akron. So we really wanted to provide runners a foot tour of that development over time. And the Goodyear half marathon and 10K is expected to be a long term event that we are planning to have each year. We met with Goodyear over the past several years, explaining our concept of adding new events and also being able to utilize their new world headquarters as the backdrop to our start and finish line. As a result, the partnership that we have with Goodyear really is adding value to the racing experience by the unique venue and secondly by some of the prizes they are able to offer. We are giving some of our top finishers blimp rides for two. We're just really thrilled to have a global name associated with our event here in Akron."

Series leadership and Goodyear are not the only community segments thrilled with this new road racing event. The running community is also embracing the August 15th event in a big way. "We are expecting 3000 participants in the Goodyear half marathon and 10K. The 10K event is sold out and we expect the half marathon to sell out in advance of race day." Bitong - whose visionary leadership has been a large component of the continued growth and success of the Akron Marathon and now new Series - is upbeat about the future. And she can cite valid reasons for that optimism. "Our inaugural event back in 2003 had a little over 3000 participants. Last year's marquee event had 15,000 participants. Through the race series - in this our inaugural year - we are hoping for 20,000 participants. And with the completion of the June race and with the August race on the cusp, we are going to hit that mark," notes Bitong with pride. "The Akron running community has been strong, but it is continuing to grow through this race series. And we really want the race series to fuel the running community and to have a lot of new people experience an event that maybe they never thought they could run at all. Maybe some had been intimidated by the marquee race in September [the Akron Marathon] and they now think, 'You know what? I think I can run a mile; maybe I'll try this thing out.' And then they get hooked on the spirit, the comraderie, and the energy of race day and really go through the series. The Rubber City Race Series will just continue blossom and to grow." And with a smile she adds, "As long as we can provide a quality, world class experience, we'll continue to have runners sign up to experience it."

As the August event approaches, there may be some quiet debate about who will gain more from this collaborative partnership. Will the Rubber City Race Series get the better lift from this event? Or will Goodyear? The question misses the point. Both organizations will benefit - and will be benefit greatly. The real take-away is this: the biggest beneficiary almost certainly will be the entire northeastern Ohio region.

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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