Dover Days embraces NASCAR, shifts main events to The Green

 

Delaware State News/Marc Clery
Revolutionary War re-enactors march in the Dover Days parade in 2017.Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Kent County Tourism Inc. isn’t hiding from the fact that this year’s 85th annual Dover Days Festival will take place the same weekend in May as the spring NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway.

In fact, Wendie Vestfall, the president of Kent County Tourism, is embracing it.

Her group already has already come up with a slogan for the dual-themed weekend, “From horses to horsepower: One great weekend for Dover.”

Dover Days and NASCAR will actually only conflict on Saturday, May 5th, when the festival takes place downtown while drivers in the Xfinity Series will take on the Monster Mile in the OneMain Financial 200 race at 1:30 p.m.

“From our point of view, it actually brings more to the weekend,” Ms. Vestfall said, of having both events take place on the same weekend for the first time.

“This is Dover’s biggest weekend the way we see it, not only from a local perspective, but from a national perspective as well.

“So, we’re not shying away from the crowds and we’re trying to work together with Dover International Speedway to get those crowds to intermix. It’s a good thing to have those things happen on same weekend. It should be one big party.”

This year’s Dover Days Festival will have another difference from recent editions as it will also be heading out west — well, slightly.

The festival, which is run by Kent County Tourism Inc. and sponsored by WSFS Bank, will make a western shift this spring in hopes of sending more of its visitors to downtown Dover businesses.

This year’s Dover Days Festival will see the majority of the festival’s vendors and entertainers set up spots off State Street and on The Green, a move from Legislative Mall being the epicenter of the event in recent years.

“The reason for the change is to showcase more of what downtown Dover has to offer,” said Ms. Vestfall. “It’s our goal to expose visitors of the festival to the rich history, culture and heritage of the area while driving them through the doors of our wonderful downtown restaurants and storefront doors.”

John Doerfler, the sales and events manager for Kent County Tourism, said the shift will also open all the parking that surrounds Legislative Mall which should make it easier for people to come and participate in the festival.

“We had a meeting with downtown Dover stakeholders and a couple of issues surfaced, including parking and the lack of business they were getting during the Dover Days Festival,” Mr. Doerfler said.

“We wanted to help bring festival-goers to the downtown businesses.

“This layout actually keeps most everything in the colonial area of The Green,” which is what we wanted to do anyway and should benefit downtown businesses.”

Mr. Doerfler said the new footprint of the festival is actually larger than one used in recent years, when Legislative Mall hosted the majority of the festival activity.

No matter exactly where it is celebrated, the Dover Days Festival remains one of Delaware’s largest and longest-running free events and is dedicated to promoting the state’s heritage and culture.

Each year the festival is highlighted by events such as traditional Maypole dancing, vintage automobile rides, games, moon bounce village, more than 200 craft and food vendors, music, colonial artisans’ village and historic re-enactment groups for the Revolutionary War, World War II, the Civil War and the biggest parade in Kent County.

With the shift to the west, a slight change to the parade route will also have to happen. The parade will remain on State Street and will turn left onto Loockerman Street to disperse at the Delaware Public Archives.

Legislative Mall will not completely be left out of this year’s festival fun.

Kent County Tourism is planning to feature a tethered hot-air balloon that people can ride in to capture scenic pictures of the city, children’s activities and the annual car show on the Federal Street side of the Mall.

While hosting the Dover Days Festival and NASCAR at Dover in the Capital City might seem like a headache, Ms. Vestfall said everyone seems to be looking forward to it.

“We do pull from same volunteer pool but everybody’s been wonderful and we have had a lot of groups step up to help us make up for groups that do both of our events every year,” she said.

“It’s become a positive thing and pulled everybody together for one big weekend.”

Kent County Tourism is currently accepting registration for vendors and parade participants.

For more information on how to participate or about the festival visit www.DoverDaysFestival.com or call 302-734-4888.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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