Letter to the Editor: Kudos to Dover Downs’ anniversary

I enjoyed reading the history of Dover Downs and the people who made it happen.

When I arrived at Dover AFB as a young airman in 1968 I recall the two big projects being talked about were the new Blue Hen Mall, now the corporate center, and the racetrack at Dover Downs. I later watched a steamroller tethered to a crane roll asphalt onto the 30-degree turns.

Since then the track’s outreach to the community has never faltered. My experience has mostly been as a veterans advocate.

In 2007 track officials allowed our VVA Kent Chapter 850 to set up fundraising booths at various events to highlight the Kent County Vietnam Veterans memorial during a difficult recession. The memorial park was later expanded to include tributes to Gold Star Families and Kent Countians lost in Korea and the Middle East.

In 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq, I was a Navy Reservist called to what became a 10-month active duty tour at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. For the first three months I served in the public affairs office as a liaison between battled-injured Marines and the media.

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Dave Skocik

That May track management decided that veterans would be honored at the race. I received a request from Melvin Joseph whose construction company in Georgetown played a big role in the track’s history. He asked permission to meet Marine patients with a video crew. We were always protective of our patients but his request was approved when he explained why.

About 10 patients agreed to participate and they were brought down to the hospital lobby in their wheelchairs. He thanked each individually for their service.

What I didn’t know is that he made a similar arrangement with Walter Reed Army Hospital to meet their patients. (Since then the hospitals have combined.) The result was two groups of wounded veterans being videotaped and shown giving a group “Gentlemen, start your engines,” command at the beginning of the race, a first for the track.

Invitations were included to every race for any patient. Only one Marine was medically able to make the 100-mile trip and was driven by Lt. Cmdr. Jerry Rostad, commander of the public affairs office. Neither had ever attended a NASCAR race and were eager to accept.

They were met at McDonald’s on Route 8 by a police escort that took them to the track and its VIP booth, making a memory for both. Jerry’s request to take home a used racing slick to make a coffee table for his North Dakota home was granted.

In 2016 the 287th Delaware Army National Guard Band asked to perform a free holiday concert in their ballroom. Each December since then the band has played on.

A year earlier, former hotel CEO Ed Sutor established a relationship with the Dover Symphony Orchestra that has allowed the community to enjoy classical music three times a year. The DSO recently celebrated its own 50th birthday.

Bottom line, in addition to providing more than a thousand jobs and bringing in millions of tourism dollars, Dover Downs is to be applauded for the important role it has played in the community, much of it behind the scenes.

Dave Skocik

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