Magic markers: Dover International Speedway, horse track get historical designations

Pat Buckson and Rep. Bill Carson unveiled the historic marker placed at Dover International Speedway Thursday. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — A unique racing facility such as Dover International Speedway deserves an equally unique Delaware historical marker.

That’s exactly what it received from the state on Thursday morning — not one, but two historical markers — noting the sprawling entertainment complexes’ legendary mile-long NASCAR racetrack, as well as the five-eighths mile horse racing track that sits within the confines of the high-banked concrete-surfaced speedway.

The historical marker commemorating Dover International Speedway’s 50th anniversary was unveiled right off Leipsic Road behind the racetrack, near the entrance to the FanZone. The other, honoring the Dover Downs harness racing tradition and casino, was unveiled on the front side of the complex near U.S. 13.

Funding for the historical markers was provided by the three state legislators whose districts border and encompass the Monster Mile: Reps. William Carson and Sean Lynn and Sen. Trey Paradee.

“It’s just wonderful to be here to really celebrate another dedication of one of our Delaware historical markers,” said Stephen Marz, director of the Delaware Public Archives. “I heard someone say in the background when I got here — we’re doing two markers — and someone said, ‘Speed and entertainment. That’s a hell of a combination.’

Historic marker unveiled at Dover International Speedway commemorating its first NASCAR event 50 years ago. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“Many of the markers you’ll see recognize historic buildings, or various other types of historical sites, and it’s unusual that for this particular site to be given a historical marker after 50 years, but we do that because it’s recognized by the community as a historical area, and what it has done to this community and brought people from throughout the world to celebrate Delaware and Delaware’s history.”

Many dignitaries, including Gov. John Carney, NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton and Dover Motorsports President and CEO Denis McGlynn, among others, attended the historical marker ceremonies.

Dover’s dual-racing facility that hosted its first NASCAR race, the Mason-Dixon 300 on July 6, 1969, was the brainchild of former Delaware Gov. David Buckson, with funding largely provided by Delaware businessman and former Lt. Gov. John Rollins.

Construction on Dover International Speedway began in August 1967 by the Melvin L. Joseph Construction Co. from Georgetown. The land where the speedway sits today was previously a farm and local airstrip for small planes.

Photo courtesy of Dover International Speedway

Several family members of that Monster Mile power trio that brought the racetrack into existence were at the historical marker unveilings.

“The Delaware Historical Marker Program started way back in the 1930s when an act was established by the legislature to recognize points of interest that were historical throughout this great state that we call home,” Mr. Marz said. “Since that time, over 650 Delaware historical markers have been put in position throughout this state.”

Mr. Helton celebrated the 50th anniversary of Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama last week. At Dover, he was feeling golden again.
“We’re in our 72nd season in NASCAR, so along the way we get the opportunity to celebrate some significant milestones,” he said. “It’s an honor on behalf of NASCAR to be here today to celebrate this 50th anniversary here in Dover.”

Mr. Helton then read a letter from NASCAR Chairman Jim France that said, “To each of our dear friends at Dover International Speedway, on behalf of the France family and everyone at NASCAR, congratulations on celebrating your 50th anniversary. The Monster Mile has become an iconic facility with a reputation for tough racing that’s always brought out the best in our drivers and teams.

“So many people have played important roles in the speedway’s history, starting with the former Governor David Buckson, who was a catalyst of the project, along with John Rollins and the Rollins family and Mel Joseph of Melvin Joseph Construction Company.”

Gov. Carney made note of that Mason-Dixon 300 race title some 50 years ago and poked a little bit of fun at Richard Petty, who won that inaugural race by a six-lap margin.

“This facility they started racing here with the Mason-Dixon 300 back 50 years ago and I understand that the winner of that race was Richard Petty and he was quoted as saying that ‘this was NASCAR invading the north,’” said Gov. Carney. “What he probably didn’t know is that Delaware is not north of the Mason-Dixon line. We are the only state that is east of the Mason-Dixon line.

“But (Dover International Speedway) has been a real landmark here in central Delaware, a driver of economic activity and growth for 50-plus years. We now have the hotel and casino and we derive quite a bit of state revenue from that and our partnership is important to us. I just want to thank all of the people who made it happen, particularly the Joseph, the Rollins and Buckson families. This is a really important thing for our state.”

Mr. McGlynn said the racetrack has gotten a lot of help over the years not only from its employees, but from volunteers, fans and even NASCAR itself.

“As you can imagine, no company makes it 50 years without a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people,” Mr. McGlynn said. “Of course, NASCAR deserves a great deal of credit for delivering 50 years of quality racing here going back to the early days of Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, through the era of Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, up to today’s stars represented by Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and our current champion Joey Logano.”

Eric Buckson, a Kent County Levy Court Commissioner, said he is always amazed when he gets a chance to visit the place that his father envisioned more than half a century ago.

“I’ve always been impressed by it because I’m always able to sit by the side and listen to the stories, but it’s kind of wonderful for it to be demonstrated with a marker along those lines,” Mr. Buckson said. “It kind of lets others know and we’re real excited about that – it’s a great day.”

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

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