Commentary: Buckson’s Dover legacy should be long remembered

Fifty years ago this month, private citizen David Penrose Buckson greeted some 8,000 curious patrons to his creation, Dover Downs, and thoroughbred racing. They bet over $500,000.

Fifty years ago this year, Attorney General David Penrose Buckson headed up the First State’s newly created Department of Justice, effectively ending Delaware’s commission form of government. Buckson had laid the groundwork by placing the AG’s offices in all counties rather than only in Wilmington.

The affable Buckson bought some 200 acres of prime land just outside Dover from businessman Tom Murray, whose property previously was owned by our great, great grandfather. In Dover Downs, Buckson envisioned a year-round facility of harness racing, thoroughbred racing, auto racing, and more.

Buckson built a 5/8-mile horse racing track surrounded by a mile auto racing track. He flew to Charlotte N.C. and brought the France family and NASCAR to Dover with Richard Petty, the Allision’s, and Yarborough’s tagging along. Buckson drove to Nazareth PA and brought Mario Andretti to drive his Indy car in a short-run series (because the banking was too steep for Indy cars).

Dave got his harness racing friends to compete: future Hall of Famers Stanley Dancer, Billy Haughton, Herve Filion, et al. Local standout, Eddie Davis displayed his talents here. He brought in a major Philadelphia concessionaire to run his restaurant — all first class!

With the introduction of gambling in Atlantic City, Dover Downs experienced financial problems as did all neighboring facilities such as Brandywine, Liberty Bell and Garden State Park. Wilmington entrepreneur, John Rollins, who was Buckson’s partner in Purple and Red Racing Stables, came to the rescue. When the Horse Racing Redevelopment Act of 1994 passed the State Legislature, slots and harness racing once again flourished in Dover.

Although Dover Downs management honored him in death as his ashes were spread around the track he built and where he raced his national season champion trotter Ms Becky Pick, and his pacer Jefferic Adios (named for Rollins’ son, Jeff, and Buckson’s son, Eric), Buckson is mainly long forgotten.

Dover Downs hosts two of harness racing’s oldest stakes events in late fall: the Matron and the Progress — eliminations and finals. One was recently named after a former Rollins Brandywine official and later Dover Downs president. Hopefully, new owner, Twin River, will remember Dover Downs founder David P Buckson by honoring him this same way.

Perhaps, Dover Motorsports CEO, Denis McGlynn, who has been at Dover for most of the 50 years might find something in the two NASCAR events televised around the world. We would be remiss if we did not mention that David has been consistently controversial over the years.

Buckson is a name remembered by thousands of children he helped and families he kept together in his 20 years as judge in Kent County’s Family Court. He is remembered in Columbus, Ohio by the United States Trotting Association where he was elected as a district director; at the Harness Racing Hall of Fame for Goshen, N.Y. where he had been proclaimed Amateur Diver of the Year; in Charlotte N.C., home of NASCAR, at Harness Horse International, a horseman’s organization he co-founded; at Cloverleaf Owner’s Association, a horseman’s organization where he served as president. Celia Cohen did not forget him in her book, “Only in Delaware”. Tom Carper did not forget Buckson as he was a regular birthday greeter and visitor.

But, at the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, where he has been nominated half a dozen times, at the Delaware Department of Justice, and at Dover Downs, he is totally forgotten.

Just think of all the people employed at Dover Downs over the years, think of all the taxes paid; think of all the purses paid in horse racing; think of all the prize money in auto racing; think of all the tourism; think of all the worldwide TV enjoyment from NASCAR and simulcasting; think of all the DOJ decisions and effects; think of all the Deputy AG’s who started there.

Dammit, think of Dave Buckson as George Bernard Shaw stated so eloquently “. . . some people see things as they are and say. Why?; I dream things that never were and say, Why not?” Dave Buckson personifies the “Why Not?”

Daniel M Wilson, a resident of Cleveland, formerly lived in Dover and Dewey Beach.

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