‘The Miracle Man’ Raises Money for Collision Repair Education with Ultramarathon

Dave Cottrell, an I-CAR committee chairman, went the distance -- 213 miles to be exact -- to benefit Ohio collision repair education students.

Dave-Cottrell-Northeast-Ohio-I-CAR-Committee-CREF-fundraiser
Dave Cottrell shared this photo of himself with the finisher's buckle he earned for completing the Coast to Coaster 200 in Ohio, raising money for CREF along the way.

Dave Cottrell, chairman of the Northeast Ohio I-CAR Committee, in April ran more than 200 miles between two amusement parks in Ohio: Cedar Point in Sandusky and Kings Island in Cincinnati. The roughly four-day trek raised money for the Ohio activities of the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), a national nonprofit that supports collision repair educational programs, schools and students, and connects students with career opportunities.

In the race, dubbed the Coast to Coaster 200, Cottrell covered 213 miles April 25-29, through hills, flatland and 20 mph headwinds. It took “The Miracle Man” -- as some of his repair shop technicians call him -- a total of four days, nine hours and three minutes. He started alongside 30 other runners, and placed 11th out of 16 who finished.

Cottrell, who also is general manager of Crash Champions in Akron, OH, credits his support troop, including his wife, daughter and church small group, with helping him touch the finish line.

Autobody News spoke to Cottrell about his ultramarathon experience and the importance of funding trade programs amid the ongoing collision repair technician shortage

You’ve got a few medals in your office. What inspired the idea for running an ultramarathon to raise money for CREF?

Every year, the Northeast Ohio I-CAR Committee does some type of fundraiser or helping out a local school or schools. Last year, I had this idea of running as far as I could in a 24-hour period. I ended up stopping in 10 hours, and ran 53 miles. This year, we pushed a little further, and I signed up for this 200-mile event. We hooked up with Brandon Eckenrode from CREF. We sponsored this great fundraiser for schools across the entire state of Ohio, where people could donate a one-time gift or a per-mile pledge for however far I’d run in that race.

What was the hardest part of the ultramarathon? The hardest terrain?

The hardest was Day Three, which was flat terrain, open farmland, because we were running against 20 mph headwinds, and it seemed like not a lot of progress. You couldn’t walk, because you would go nowhere. You could run, but you felt like you were doing twice the effort.

My daughter was crewing me throughout the whole event. After running eight hours that day, I told her, “We’re just going to stop for the day.” I think it was like 3 o’clock [p.m.], and I was like, “We’ll go the motel, we’ll get some rest, and we’ll get up in the middle of the night.”

We started at 2:30 in the morning, no wind, no traffic. Believe it or not, the hills weren’t as bad as running on the flat against 20 mph headwinds.

There were some hills. It ended up being, I think, 4,000 feet of elevation -- 4,000 vert and 4,000 decline of elevation throughout different areas. It’s not like Nebraska, where everything’s flat, or Iowa. We do have some different terrain [in Ohio]. But the majority of it wasn’t too bad.

Did you get hurt or tweak any body parts, or did you emerge unscathed?

It was the most successful run I have ever done. Everything just went right. No injuries. By the time I finished, my knees down to my ankles were all swollen. I didn’t even realize it. It took a couple of days for the swelling to go down, and then I had a sore ankle that felt more like a tendon. That took me about a month to recover from that.

I recovered good. I just couldn’t run, and I like to run. So, that hindered my running for about a month.

Did you have a support group rooting you on?

There were a lot of people who were following me. I have a connect group I’m involved with at my church, and they were all getting together, praying for me and everything. There were times it was hard to walk for three to five miles. It was like no energy at all, just tough. And then all the sudden I get this burst of energy and just take off running. I give credit to prayer for that one. I just couldn’t have done it on my own.

Why is it important to raise money for technician education programs?

In our type of collision industry, the [school] equipment’s a little more expensive than paper and pens. Our industry is lacking on younger technicians. So, anything we can do to provoke the younger generation to get involved, the better off we are, and funding is going to help attract and help train what we’ve got coming in.

A recent TechForce report found if trends continue, there will be a shortage of about 113,000 collision repair technicians in 2026. What do you think needs to happen to gin up interest in the industry?

I think people need to visit their local trade schools, whether it’s auto body or carpentry, or wherever. People need to be involved more with the school and not just sit back and hope for the next generation. People need to be actively involved in working with the instructors, seeing what the instructor needs are, and helping with the placement of students, as they’re coming through the technical schools.

What classes or course tracks in I-CAR's new curriculum do you think appeal to younger people?

The nice part about it is when the kids are done with this training, it’s not, “I’m certified to sweep your floors and clean your toilets;" they can do body repairs, they can do bumper repairs, and the important part is it makes them valuable to any shop. You can hire anybody to sweep your floor, but you can’t acquire somebody that already has some internship skills that you can get right into the industry.

There are companies out there that have programs where they work along with younger techs too. That would be ideal if somebody already had some knowledge, they come in and work with a master tech, so that they could learn more.

It’s known there’s a shortage of young people in the industry. Is there a shortage of mentors?

Not everybody’s a good mentor. There are good techs, but that doesn’t mean they can mentor the next generation. It takes a special breed. It takes a special person, and they’ve got to be willing and patient, I guess, would be the best word.

Several colleges are now offering the Collision Engineering Program. Why is there such a demand for these programs in community colleges? Do you expect this trend to continue?

I sure hope it does. I was working with a local college about 15 years ago, and we never could get the program going. Like you said, there is a shortage, and there’s going to be a major shortage here in a couple of years, and that’s a concern. We have to be training the next generation to have them ready for somebody to take over.

How much money did you raise for CREF during the Coast to Coaster? You had a goal to raise $20,000, right?

That was my goal. I fell a little short. I think we got like $3,500.

What other fundraising events are in the pipeline that you’re aware of, both for CREF and other technician education programs?

I know Columbus, OH, does a golf ball drop, and they raise multi-thousands of dollars every year, through [the Columbus I-CAR Committee]. They were even generous enough to support my event with some of the funds that they raised.

I don’t think anybody else out there is crazy enough to run 200 miles for a fundraiser other than me. It ended up being 213 miles, total. We did get sponsors to sponsor me to stay in a motel every night, so we would run as far as we could, or as far as felt good, and then we’d spend the night in a motel. My daughter would travel like five miles ahead and meet me, and be my aide with food and drink and stuff like that.

What do your techs think of you? Are you known as like “the marathon guy” at your shop?

I’ve been called “The Miracle Man,” “The Marathon Man,” “Extraordinary.” [“I call him ‘extraordinary,’” his wife says through the phone. “People were calling you crazy, so I called you ‘extraordinary.’”]

This is kind of a corny question. Did running the ultramarathon make you appreciate having a car?

No. I believe that running is for more than just pleasure, and yesterday would be a good example, when I ran to the alignment shop to pick up a car before work and then drove it back to work before the day started. I like to go to the destinations, so I don’t believe you need a car for everything.

Have any of your technicians been inspired to invest in collision education programs, or to get more into health through your events?

I would say the latter would be more the case. You do see people wanting to exercise more, kind of conscious of what they’re eating, and stuff like that. I never thought of it that way, but yeah, I have noticed that part.

No one’s trying to race you [on foot] during break or anything?

Nobody wants to go out running yet. They’re too old, man. They’re almost my age.

Anything else you wanted to add?

I had a blast. It was a fun event. It was a successful event. It was actually on roads the majority of the time. They set it up so that you would visit different cities going through the state of Ohio, so it was nice getting to see different cities that I’ve never been through before.

I was impressed with Lebanon, [OH] because I’ve never been there before, and I heard that they had done some Hallmark movies there, and it was a lot bigger, and it was a very clean city.

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