The History and Evolution of YellowJacket Racing
(In Boots’ words)
1998: The year it all began (Phase 1). After 25 years of directing the Webster Turkey Trot, High School XC coach Jim May decided it was time to step down as race director after the 1997 edition. Having run the event for years and as an 8 time champion at that time I did not want to see my hometown event disappear so I stepped up to take the event over (i.e. no one else wanted to). Having competed at the high school, collegiate and international level I knew I wanted to bring some of the ideas I saw at other events to racing in Rochester. In my first year directing Trot we had a record field with about 250 runners (the event now sees nearly 5000 registrants each year)
1999: Well I didn’t screw up Trot in my first year so why not expand. I always loved running trails and would regularly take my training partners to trails to explore so The New Balance Trail Series was started. We produced 4 trail events (Mendon, Black Creek, Webster, & Ontario County Parks) with an average attendance of about 12 runners. The Mendon Mauler which takes place today with nearly 400 runners started as a race in this series.
1999 was also the year that the Fairport Firecracker 5 mile approached me about 2 weeks before race day as that year’s race director had quit. Nothing had been planned for the race yet but I figured what the heck I can pull it off. With just 2 weeks to plan, everything fell into place and the race grew from the previous year and now hosts nearly 1000 runners every year.
2000 – 2001: Nothing too exciting other than growing Trot and Firecracker each year, condensing the Trail races and failing to launch a couple of new events. 2001 is also the year that Ellen and I meet and she joins me at YJR.
2002: Partnered with the Mary M. Gooley Hemophilia Center to help them out of an odd situation (they had a lot of sponsors but their race was canceled) resulting in the very first Rochester Autumn Classic Duathlon. We had only 8 weeks to plan and produce the duathlon. Calling on my friends from the Professional Duathlon circuit, we hosted a Professional field with the female winner being Desiree Ficker who would go on to finish second overall at the Ironman World Championships just a few years later.
2003: Co-Launched the Finger Lakes Triathlon which has been one of the largest triathlons in our region every year since. This might be the first year we outgrew my Astro Van and had to rent a box truck to move supplies to an event. I worked 36 straight hours with no sleep while getting the course set up. The event was going to be called the Canandaigua Triathlon until I convinced the MM Gooley Center that most people outside of our region cannot pronounce it or know where it is but people have heard of the Finger Lakes.
2004: The year it all took off (Phase 2). Ellen and I announced that we would be opening our first Fleet Feet Sports franchise and we decided at the same time to invest in our own timing system. Previously we had outsourced our timing needs to other companies but when our contracted timer would not stand behind his work we figured if we have to take the blame as the race director, any screw ups should be our fault. We invested $50,000 in 5 Mylaps Pro Chip systems and were the first Rochester based company to provide chip based timing to events. The idea was that we would time our own events which stood at 7. Realizing how long it would take to pay down the investment we decided to offer our services to other local events, hence the beginning of our contract timing division. This is the year we also added The Spring Classic Duathlon, Shoreline Triathlon, and Sodus Point Triathlon.
2005 – 2010: Pretty much a blur of growth. We added more events of our own and begin providing timing services across New York State. We launched the Dirt Cheap Trail Race Series when we saw the economy begin to go bad as a way to provide low cost, fun but still professionally produced events. Our goal for race 1 was 50 runners we had over 100 and now regularly get well over 300 for each weekday event. At dinner after the final DC race we thought up the Snow Cheap Series, same concept of low cost fun but at night in the snow. It was during this time that we also launched the Rochester Flower City Challenge, our most ambitious event to date, with 4 events over 2 days. 1 month after the first running of FCC we launched the award winning Sehgahunda Trail Marathon.
2011: YJR was now producing or providing services to over 100 events annually and in November we opened our second Fleet Feet Sports on the west side of town. We also added 5 new Jaguar timing systems bringing disposable timing chips attached to the back of a runners bib to Rochester.
2012 – 2013: YJR continued to grow to over 150 annual events including around 30 of our own events that we produced. With this growth we also purchased 12 MyLaps Bib Chip systems to support the number of events we worked.
2014: The crazy Year (Phase 2.5) YJR produced or provided services to over 200 events in a single year. Crews would be working upwards of 6 events on the same day across New York State. This is also the year that we purchased the Rochester Marathon from the Arthritis Foundation to ensure that our community would continue to have a marathon. In February both Fleet Feet Sports and YellowJacket Racing moved from our original 3000 sf store location in Brighton, NY to our new 9000 sf Culver Road Armory location in the City of Rochester. YJR also moved all of their equipment to a new 4000 sf warehouse from a 150 sf storage unit. To top it off in November we purchased the Buffalo, NY Fleet Feet Sports franchise bringing our store count to 3.
2015: Pulled back slightly on our number of events, working about 160 while we focused on bringing our Buffalo store on board. Relaunched the Rochester Marathon on a new course with tons of new amenities to rave reviews.
2016: The New Beginning (Phase 3) In November 2015 we made the final decision to close down our Contract Timing Division to solely focus on our own Produced Events and a new Partner Event Division. While becoming one of the largest event timing companies in NY State based on number of events worked sounded cool it stopped being much fun. Our crews were getting burned out, mistakes were being made and Ellen and I were getting too old too quick. After analyzing our numbers we saw that Contract Timing made up a very small percentage of our revenue while dominating our time. We figured there had to be a better way.
YJR Events Division
These are what we love to do most, bring an event from concept to reality. We have dozens of concepts we’ve wanted to bring to market but we’ve just been too busy. By eliminating the Contract Timing Division we can focus on improving our own events and also finally launch some new ones. 2016 will see 2-4 new events from YJR and a ton of new features and amenities at our current events.
- Cupids Cup 5k and Right to Run 19k/5k are just 2 events already announced that are possible because of our reorganization.
YJR Event Partner Division
- YJR will still be working with some of our favorite and we feel some of the best events in Rochester and Upstate NY.
- Since our crews will be working fewer events we can spend more time providing enhanced services to a select number of races. Our Event Partners will receive more attention from the YJR Team, with focus on marketing and logistics as well as enhanced timing services. Our goal is to drive more participants to our Partner Events.
So while YJR will be at fewer events going forward we feel we will be at some of the absolute best events in our region and we will be working hard to ensure those events continue to get better. Also by working fewer events our employees will have a better quality of life and be able to enjoy a few weekends, maybe even jump in some races themselves.
That’s our story so far, we’ll see what the future brings
Boots – Founder/Owner YellowJacket Racing, LLC