Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Or, if you’re scanning the skies above South Sound on a day when the Goodyear Blimp is out for a spin, you might be looking at local business owner Scott Welsh. The owner of Tacoma’s Courtesy Auto Service & Tire has flown in the airship twice and orchestrated more than half a dozen trips for Pacific Northwest Goodyear customers over the last 34 years.
That may not sound like much by the numbers, but it’s a much more staggering figure when you consider how hard it is to score a ride in America’s most famous dirigible. A jaunt in the Goodyear blimp – an American cultural icon that we see so often at football games or special seasonal events – is something that less than 99% of the population will get to experience in their lifetime. You are more likely to be struck by lightning, statistically speaking, than you are to take a ride in this airship. But if you’re a customer of Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma, the odds are not that long.
Rides on a Goodyear Blimp are available at the invitation of the company only, and Goodyear’s policy is that it does not generally offer rides to the general public. That’s what makes Scott so unique: not only has he ridden the blimp more than once, but he’s also been able to provide a few of his loyal customers with the opportunity as well.
Perks of the Job
Scott has been working for or with Goodyear for 34 years, beginning when he was just 21-years-old. Scott worked in the tire and auto business over the next few years and in 2003 he became interested in purchasing a store that Goodyear Corporate was relinquishing in Tacoma. This became Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma. Years later, he still enjoys a great working relationship with the company through his Tacoma-based business.
Before he went into business for himself, Scott held a few different jobs at Goodyear. One of these was Area Marketing Manager, a position he held for several years. “That job,” Scott explains, “is what provided me with the opportunity to coordinate for and work with Airship Operations. It’s also how I first got to work with one of the blimps a little more closely.”
In the summer of 1991, Scott worked with Goodyear on a unique promotion dubbed BlimpTour ‘91. “If a consumer bought tires,” he recalls, “you got a seat on the blimp. It was a large, successful, unique promotional opportunity for Goodyear to use the Ariel Ambassadors for retailing their tires to local dealers and corporate stores. I coordinated the marketing, fulfillment of consumer rides, etc. for this promotion and also for the promotion that we did in the Bay Area of Northern California. We gave close to 500 folks a ride in the blimp during that promotion.”
Through his business, Scott has also been able to secure the airship for a variety of non-profit ride donations with Goodyear in addition to the sales promotions his loyal customers look forward to. Partnering with Goodyear, Scott has been able to secure approximately 12 blimp rides for auction for The Forgotten Children’s Fund (2004), The Rainbow Center (2005) and Metro Parks Tacoma (2007). Through these auctions, Courtesy Auto Service & Tire of Tacoma was able to contribute thousands of dollars to the Tacoma community through these organizations.
Sean Peterson, a customer at Courtesy Auto for 15 years and counting, is one of the South Sound natives able to secure a ride via a Goodyear tire promotion in recent years. “I’ve been taking my vehicles to Scott and his crew for a long time, and he is one of the most genuine individuals I’ve ever met. He’s very kind, honest and his whole crew is just a bunch of fantastic people. He handles every customer with grace and composure, and I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to meet him and have him take care of my cars, which is in a sense my family. I can think of no one better to entrust with that. Every time that he has a promotion I sign up for it, and I am so lucky to have been able to take advantage of his blimp ride promotion. For me, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Sean took his father, a retired Navy pilot who is now 86-years-old, for a ride in 2015. “My father had never been in a blimp before but, in the late ‘50s he flew jets in the Navy. So we went together and had a fantastic, relaxing time, and we were able to cross that off his bucket list thanks to Courtesy Auto. It was a very fun experience and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it.”
So what’s it like to ride in the Goodyear Blimp? Scott recalls a trip he took with his then 10-year-old son, Chris, over the water in Snohomish County. “It has a single wheel, and the ground crew sort of bounces it and gives it gas for takeoff. It looks like a slow-moving rocket taking off. You ride in a small gondola that seats 8 to 10 people beneath a very large sphere full of gas. It’s loud during takeoff, but the ride quiets down as you go. The ground crew follows the blimp, and when they land it, the ground crew has to grab the ropes and haul the airship in. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
Sean remembers that the hardest part about getting into the blimp is climbing up into it. “It floats,” he says, “and the balloon is sort of anchored to the ground but bobbing. The seating area is sort of a metal frame with seats, and it’s pretty loud. What I thought was really interesting is that when you want to go up or down there’s a giant wheel that they rotate up or down. It was a nice day so you could see out over Centralia and Chehalis. We went over the Black Hills and then back around. They have a whole crew when you’re landing and these guys with ropes are on the land trying to wrestle the blimp to the ground with ropes.”
If you’ve always wanted to take a ride on a blimp, never fear: Courtesy Auto of Tacoma has every intention of running this promotion again in the future. Simply follow Courtesy’s Facebook for updates on when to come in for your next auto service and details on how to enter future promotions. Fans of the blimp can follow along with adventures of the newest airships – the Wingfoot One and Wingfoot Two – online as well as via social media.