For years, Charlotte’s marathon had a name that harkened to the city’s roots in stock car driving. Now the new name for the race, taking place this weekend, is meant to have a broader appeal that organizers hope will help boost participation numbers.
Thunder Road Marathon’s new name, the Charlotte Marathon, is meant to acknowledge the region’s diverse offerings outside racing, including its hospitals, professional sports, weather, banks and other Fortune 500 companies, according to race director Tim Rhodes.
When the Thunder Road Marathon began in December 2005, race organizers said its name was a nod to Charlotte’s stock car racing background. Plus, he noted, NASCAR would commit months later to building its new hall of fame in uptown Charlotte.
The Thunder Road name, however, never caught on, Rhodes said, and organizers announced the new moniker in January.
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“It never worked as well as we had hoped it would. For someone living in Kentucky, ‘Thunder Road’ doesn’t really define what we do in Charlotte,” he said.
The new name is meant to have broader appeal, Rhodes said. “If Charlotte has such a great brand, why aren’t we taking advantage of that?”
There’s been a broader loss of interest in NASCAR in the last decade and a decline in race attendance for a host of reasons, including stilted job growth among the middle class, the sport’s core fan base. Attendance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame plummeted more than 40 percent in its first five years of operation.
Under the Thunder Road Marathon name, the race’s tagline was: “Start Your Engines.” The new tagline, for the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon, is: “Our Streets. Our City. Our Marathon. #runcharlotte.”
Saturday’s races – which include a marathon, half marathon, relay, 5K and 1-mile – will draw between 5,000-6,000 runners this weekend, about unchanged from last year. Participation numbers in marathons nationwide have declined, Rhodes said, as other new races have popped up. Rhodes said the hope is the name change will help drive interest in the Charlotte race.
Another new feature of the race is a performance by an 80’s cover band called the Spazmatics at Romare Bearden Park. Their opening band starts performing at 9 a.m. Saturday, Rhodes said.
A marathon had been held in Charlotte for nearly three decades prior to that before going on hiatus for a year because of funding problems. More information on the race is available at runcharlotte.com.