Cover photo for Patrick Neale's Obituary
1946 Patrick 2024

Patrick Neale

June 9, 1946 — March 11, 2024

Rick Neale passed away at age 77 after a long illness on March 11, 2024, surrounded by family at his Norton, Ohio, home.

Speed was in Rick's DNA. A record-breaking swimmer and award-winning autocross racer, he logged a colorful 40-year career at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., evolving from an innovative tire engineer into the company's chief test driver who evaluated tire designs from behind the wheel at racetracks around the world.

"People think of test drivers as helmets, tire smoke and sliding cars. That's maybe 5% of what we do," Rick described in a 1994 front-page story in The Wall Street Journal that ran in newspapers nationwide.

He developed Goodyear's wet tire-handling course during the mid-1980s at the Akron test track, and his methodology remains an industry standard used by car and tire manufacturers across North America. He also developed and ran Goodyear's snow-tire testing program in Ironwood on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Rick was born in June 1946 in Spokane, Washington. In 1962, he placed fifth nationally in his age group in the AAU 200-meter freestyle swim. By the time he graduated Shadle Park High School in 1964, he was an All-American swimmer and butterfly-stroke specialist heading off to compete in the Pac-8 at Washington State University. There, he rewrote the freshman record book, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported.

After earning a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from WSU in 1969, he moved to Akron to launch his Goodyear career. As a young automotive tire engineer, he was awarded three tire design patents from 1973-76: "We want to commend you for creative thinking," a vice president wrote in a congratulatory letter. What's more, Rick developed a new bead area shape for Goodyear's Custom Mini-Space trunk-mounted spare tire that prevented air loss, a problem that plagued the original tire.

Outside work, family members are left to wonder how many autocross and racing titles Rick racked up - he won so many trophies and plaques that he tossed them into cardboard boxes, gave them away and threw them out. For example, a wooden jewelry box in his dresser contains more than 125 small, engraved plates that he peeled off racing awards he won from 1970-83 across the Midwest.

Rick's beloved autocross race cars were Froggy, a green BMW 2002, and Blue, a blue BMW Bavaria. He served as president of the Akron Sports Car Club, where he designed autocross tracks, and later raced in the Sports Car Club of America Formula 440 division.

"To say the man was fast was an understatement," a self-described "new cocky test driver" who was hired by Goodyear in 1989 recalled in a condolence message. "He was down to earth, did not suffer fools, and tolerated us newcomers. Over the years, the appreciation of just how good a driver he was became apparent" - and "Rick left a mark on my life to this day, and he probably never knew it."

Rick also spent years testing tires at Goodyear's racetracks in New Zealand and San Angelo, Texas, and he was featured in press events and car magazine interviews.

Fiercely competitive, Rick loved to beat his wife, LaVonne, and relatives at cards and taught them all -- in fun -- how to be smug winners and sore losers during these special occasions that meant so little and so much. Rick battled in racquetball leagues and tournaments during the sport's 1980s and '90s heyday in Akron, showcasing skills he previously developed playing handball and tennis.

Motoring at high speed during his younger years, Rick slowed down later in life. He was often happiest fishing, experimenting in the kitchen and cooking pizza on Christmas Eve, playing disc golf or relaxing at home, spending countless hours watching and identifying the diverse birds at his backyard feeders, sitting on the porch looking for bats at dusk, feeling the strong winds of a storm, counting the seconds between thunder and lightning late in the night. It wasn't enough for him to know what happened, he needed to know why. He passed this love of learning and need for informing to his children.

He was extremely generous, but he wanted no credit for the time he spent or the causes he supported. In 2018, Rick and Lavonne were named the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank's Volunteers of the Year after they racked up nearly 450 service hours working in the warehouse and helping with fundraisers and bake sales.

Rick is survived by LaVonne; daughters Kristi (Eric) Gerlach of North Canton and Katy (Steve) Tannert of Uniontown; son Rick of Melbourne, Florida; stepdaughter Amanda (Blake) Metzler of Williams, Oregon, and stepson Wendell Van Sickle of Akron; brother Roger of Seattle, Washington; grandchildren Rex and Clara Tannert; former wife Katherine Forsthoffer of Mogadore; and other relatives. He was preceded in death by parents Robert and Goldie of Spokane, Washington; brother Tim of Anchorage, Alaska; and beloved dogs Suzy, Mitzi, and Budd.

A private memorial service will occur in the future. In lieu of flowers, Rick's family requests donations to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Akron Zoo, and Humane Society of Summit County.

Rick's unique sense of humor, his blunt honesty, and his tough mentorship will be remembered by the many lives he impacted.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Patrick Neale, please visit our flower store.

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