Special Weekend for Goodyear
By: Jeff Wackerlin - @JWackerlin on February 21, 2014 | 2:00 P.M. EST
Based at the New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport for the week, the Spirit of Goodyear (far) will make its last flight over the Daytona 500 on Sunday and will be joined by the Spirit of Innovation in the air. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The 56th running of the Daytona 500 will be special for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company for many reasons.
Not only will Sunday's race mark the kickoff for Goodyear celebrating 60 consecutive years as the tire supplier for NASCAR. It will also mark the last flight over a race for "The Spirit of Goodyear" blimp.
Dating back to 1954, when Goodyear conducted tests - using a tire that was previously only available for law enforcement - at Darlington for the NASCAR Convertible Series, the company has worked endlessly on bringing a safe, competitive tire to the track.
"Goodyear's relationship with NASCAR is one of the longest continuous supplier relationships, not just in motor sports but in any sport," said Gary Melliere, general manager of sponsorships at Goodyear. "Over those years, we're proud to have formed strong relationships with NASCAR, its officials, teams, drivers and - most importantly - the fans that make up this great sport.
"Goodyear is proud of our NASCAR heritage. It's one of the most visible assets that we have in our arsenal. The relationship with NASCAR provides a direct connection to the products we sell at Goodyear. One in three Goodyear Tire buyers is a NASCAR fan."
Through the years, Goodyear has provided superior performance and innovation ... starting with the first racing tire designed specifically for NASCAR - the Stock Car Special - in 1957, to slick bias race tires in 1974, to the first radial racing tires in 1988 and now multi-zone technology.
"Those were huge innovations in safety and competition," said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president for competition. "Now, we're moving on to the multi-zone tread that we'll look back on 10 years from now and see what that has done for us."
The multi-zone tread race tire made its debut last year at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. Goodyear announced that it will increase the number of races this season to include Texas Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway, with the possibility to add others.
Sunday's Daytona 500 will mark the end of an era for "The Spirit of Goodyear" blimp as it will be its last sporting event for aerial coverage before being disassembled for retirement. The blimp was based near Goodyear's headquarters in Akron, Ohio, and relocated a few months ago to Pompano Beach Fla. - but not before flying over NCAA football games at Penn State, the University of North Carolina and Clemson. The Spirit of Goodyear debuted in 2000 and is the longest-operating airship.
Over the next several years, Goodyear will introduce a new fleet of airships that will replace the three currently in operation. The new one, which will be faster and larger, will be revealed on March 14 and will go into service later this summer.
The Goodyear blimp's aerial television coverage started in 1955 for the Rose Bowl and Tournament of Roses Parade. Dating back to the '60s, the Goodyear blimp has been a staple over NASCAR races through the years with "The Spirit of Goodyear" flying over tracks such as Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway before its final trek to Florida. The blimp is equipped with a 360-degree high-definition camera that provides a bird's-eye view for the fans watching at home while listening to the broadcast on the Motor Racing Network.
"We have constant communication between our camera operator and the director," said Edward E. Ogden, 'Spirit of Goodyear' public relations manager. "The pilot also hears the director, which is also very important as an added element to what we do versus what someone in a turn might do. We have someone up in the ship that has to try and coordinate where the airship is. So if the camera operator is told to follow the leader, he's coming into Camera 1, the pilot wants to make sure that he's not completely out of position like far away doing a wide shot."
For its final race, "The Spirit of Goodyear" will be joined by the Pompano Beach-based "Spirit of Innovation" in the air over Daytona International Speedway. On Saturday prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300, there will be special activities to commemorate "Spirit of Goodyear’s" final flight that will include a video on the Sprint Vision screens around the track.