CANAAN VALLEY, WV
KNIGHT VOTED WV TOURISM PERSON OF
The following are excerpts from both Neil Sandler's nomination
letter and Dave Arnold's presentation speech:
2001 West Virginia Tourism Conference, Canaan Valley Resort State
Davis, WV—This year, the West Virginia Division of Tourism received
four nominations for its highly coveted “Tourism Person of the Year”
award. This award is presented to a person whose performance continuously
stands out. A person whose performance not only enhances the growth
of a particular business, but also helps set West Virginia’s tourism
industry apart from those of other states. The Tourism Person of the
Year is a person whose sense of responsibility, excitement and enthusiasm
for a chosen profession or business goes beyond just “doing the job”
or “making a living” or “putting in hours.”
Anyone who talks to the Tourism Person of the Year knows that his
or her career path is a life path. It’s a part of the person’s total
personality and is a 24/7 activity, one that doesn’t know a time clock,
a paycheck or a quitting time. This year, Laird Knight, founder and
president of Granny Gear Productions based in Davis, West Virginia
(Tucker County) has been awarded this most prestigious award. The
award was presented by David Arnold, chairman of the Tourism Commission.
is the vision and the energy behind
The 24 Hours of Canaan Bike Team Relay (now known as The 24 Hours
of Snowshoe). This event has been listed as one of the top three mountain
bike events in the United States by both Mountain Bike and
Mountain Bike Action magazines and his 24 Hours of Moab race
has been voted the #1 mountain bike race in the Rocky Mountains by
readers of Rocky Mountain Sports.
Not content to have fearless cyclists racing across the Appalachian
terrain in a 24-hour relay race, he saw potential in the desert of
Moab, Utah, and the mountains of Lake Tahoe, California, where his
company produces two other 24 Hour events to round out the three race
Although Knight is not a West Virginia native, he’s lived in the Mountain
State for more than 20 years and he based Granny Gear Productions,
a sports marketing and event production company, in Davis, West Virginia.
Knight is recognized as the founder of 24-hour mountain bike racing;
Granny Gear’s 24 Hour Race Series attracts cyclists from all over
the world, including Canada, Germany, Mexico, Argentina and Japan.
With 15 different categories ranging from solo to 5-person teams,
both male and female entrants, juniors to masters, Knight’s 24 Hour
mountain bike team relay races are open to anyone who wants to ride
day or night, rain or shine, up and down.
Today, cyclists and media around the world know about West Virginia
in large part due to the popularity of the event and press coverage
surrounding The 24 Hours of Canaan (now Snowshoe).
In nominating Laird Knight for this award, Neil Sandler, editor and
publisher of Spokes Magazine, said: “It would be highly appropriate,
in this year when the event celebrated its 10th Anniversary, that
the state of West Virginia honor a man who not only created this highly
popular event, but created a whole new sport. In the early 1990s,
mountain biking was just getting into its own. But in many ways, the
sport was searching for a soul. To anyone who has seen Laird Knight
in action, or who has participated in a 24 Hour team relay, or just
talked with him about the possibilities, it is clear that he is the
soul of mountain biking.”
Recognized by many as the first person to open a mountain bike shop
in West Virginia, Knight came to West Virginia by way of many homes,
many institutes of higher education and many diverse jobs. He organized
his first mountain bike race, the Canaan Mountain 40k, in 1983. Twelve
brave men started the race, no one finished.
Undaunted, Laird took stock of his options and decided his strengths
were his creativity, patience, generosity and hard-headed determination.
(He also recognized his weaknesses as well: a short attention span,
daydreaming and an affinity for Hostess fruit pies.) And he plunged
ahead with his mountain bike racing dream.
Now, The 24 Hours of Snowshoe (formerly The 24 Hours of Canaan), is
in its 11th year. It attracts international race teams and garners
media attention that spans the globe. West Virginia’s awesome beauty
and scenic mountains make a breathtaking backdrop for television footage
and still photographs of one of the most exciting forms of mountain
But the race does even more for West Virginia than most people know.
Each year, Knight’s company, Granny Gear Productions, offers an Early
Bird Registration Program through the American Lung Association of
West Virginia (ALAWV). This year, participants raised more than $156,000
in contributions for the ALAWV—its largest single-event fundraiser.
As for mountain bike racing, today there are more than 44 24-hour
team relays in the United States. And there are several international
races as well. As founder of the 24-hour team relay format, Knight
has produced sister events in Moab, Utah, and Lake Tahoe, California.
Knight told Vernon Felton, editor-at-large at Bike Magazine, that
many of his friends took him aside and told him he was crazy to quit
his day job to start Granny Gear Productions. Knight’s “hard-headed
determination” panned out and a new genre in mountain bike racing
was born. For Knight, it was a simple calling: he knew the fun factor
could take 24-hour racing over the top and that gave him the confidence
he needed to follow his dream.
“Never say never” may best describe the Tourism Person of the Year.
A man whose optimism and enthusiasm, whose commitment to bringing
the best to West Virginia and to building an international reputation
from his headquarters in Davis, really do allow West Virginia to show
its best, time and time again.
When accepting the “Tourism Person of the Year” Award, Knight thanked
his staff (Elizabeth A. Gillespie, Suzanne Goff Andre and Cheryl L.
Cassell) and the West Virginia Tourism Commission. “This is truly
an honor, especially coming from such a hard-working and dedicated
group of people. I’m really pleased with the recognition that mountain
biking has achieved in this state,” Knight said. In his closing remarks,
Knight mentioned his favorite bumper sticker: “I wasn’t born a West
Virginian...but I’ll die one.”
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For photographic materials, call Elizabeth Gillespie at (304)259-5533