Cohee going distance at Dover speedway

Howard “Nelson” Cohee Jr., second from left, is honored along with George Keller, second from right, for being the only two employees at Dover International Speedway who have worked every race. At left is Michael Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway and vice president of Dover Motorsports. At right is Gary Camp, assistant vice president of marketing and communications at Dover International Speedway.

DOVER — Howard “Nelson” Cohee Jr. is a Delawarean who has lived all his life in the Dover area. His family has always been into auto racing, attending the first Daytona 500 on Feb. 25, 1959, and several races every year from then on.

However, he wasn’t really much of a fan at that time. Nelson’s dad played cards with Melvin Joseph and Frank Perdue Sr. Mr. Joseph was a pioneer in the development of NASCAR racing and his construction company built Dover International Speedway, among many other contributions to the sport.

Mr. Joseph insisted that young Mr. Cohee Jr. (who was 27 at the time) come and work with him at the first NASCAR auto race weekend at then-Dover Downs speedway. The big inaugural race was held on July 6, 1969. Nelson rode around with Melvin in his Lincoln and did whatever jobs that needed to be done. In the end, he got paid for working that weekend and had a new appreciation for the sport.

Since that first weekend, Mr. Cohee has worked every motorsport event of any kind that Dover, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has had.

In the beginning, the start/finish line was on the opposite side of where it sits today. He remembers in the early years at Dover that they had to drive the films to the TV stations in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Salisbury, Maryland right after the race finished so they could be on the 11 p.m. news.

He also recalled when the first scorers sat on a farm wagon and wrote down the time when each race car passed them — there was one scorer for each car and it was all done manually.

Mr. Cohee certainly has seen a lot of changes over the years at the Monster Mile. He remembers when Denis McGlynn came to the track as a public relations representative and worked his way to the top. Mr. McGlynn is now president and CEO of Dover Motorsports Inc.

He remembers Mike Bagley of Milford, who as a kid, came to the races with his parents. Mr. Bagley is now the co-host of the Sirius XM nationally syndicated talk show “The Morning Drive,” a race announcer for Motor Racing Network and he works for NBC at selected races as part of their radio coverage.

At 77 years old, Mr. Cohee will be celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary with his wife Ruth Ann on Dec. 4. Both of them are CDL truck drivers still working today.

Mr. Cohee does over-the-road long hauls while Mrs. Cohee does more local day trips. At one time NASCAR tried to get him to drive their haulers, but it would have impacted his pension with his current employer so he declined.

Mr. Cohee is joined by racing legend Bobby Allison during a recent NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway. Today, Mr. Cohee’s main duties on race weekend include staging the grand marshal cars and getting all the flags signed by the drivers for the honorary starters for each race.

Together the couple has three children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Both their daughters, Tina Holz and Tammy Dayton, work at the Dover track every race weekend just like their dad. Mr. Cohee’s son Howie worked on race weekend years ago as well.

Mrs. Cohee enjoys watching the races on television from her chair with lots of peace and quiet. Her favorite drivers are the Busch brothers — Kurt and Kyle. Rescuing dogs is something both Cohees take great pride in doing; they currently own five.

When asked about his favorite race at Dover’s Monster Mile, Mr. Cohee said there are many but two really stick out in his mind.

The first one was when David Pearson, driving for the Wood Brothers broke a shock. They got the shock replaced during a caution, never lost a lap and went on to win the race. The other memorable event was the fall race right after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. It was a very hectic weekend but it was much more emotional than any other race for everyone at Dover International Speedway.

He’ll be in attendance this weekend for another Dover race weekend.

Today, Mr. Cohee’s main duties on race weekend include staging the grand marshal cars and getting all the flags signed by the drivers for the honorary starters for each race.

Howard “Nelson” Cohee Jr.’s association with Dover International Speedway began when Melvin Joseph insisted that he come and work with him at the first NASCAR auto race weekend at then-Dover Downs speedway on July 6, 1969. Mr. Cohee rode around with Mr. Joseph in his Lincoln and did whatever jobs that needed to be done

“The two hardest drivers to get to sign these flags each race weekend over all these years was Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Darrell Waltrip,” he said.

He eventually became friends with both of them and was able to get the flags signed from then on.

Mr. Cohee has seen a lot of people come and go in the NASCAR racing world and while he thinks the sport has a few issues today, he really enjoys seeing the drivers involving their families more on race weekend and feels that will only help encourage younger fans.

The stories he’s been part of are numerous.

“Nelson is only one of two people who have worked every race weekend at Dover International Speedway,” said Mr. McGlynn, who has worked for the track for 47 years.

Track historian George Keller is the other one.

“He is very dedicated and has developed great relationships with everyone including the drivers, team owners, and media. He is a can-do guy that we can go to for most anything and he gets it done,” Mr. McGlynn said.

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