Triple-header weekend packed with action

The party starts Friday as Dover International Speedway begins celebrating 50 years of NASCAR racing at the Monster Mile.

The triple-header features the Gander Outdoors Truck Series Friday, the Xfinity Series Saturday and the Monster Energy Cup Series Sunday, with special guests throughout the weekend, including legendary drivers.

Originally named Dover Downs International Speedway, construction began in 1966 by the Delaware family-owned Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company. Three years later the track was ready to host its inaugural race, the Mason-Dixon 300, on July 6, 1969.

Dover is one of only a few tracks which measures a mile long. Originally asphalt, it became NASCAR’s first concrete paved superspeedway in 1995. The oval with 24-degree banking in the turns and 9-degree banked straightaways offers a fast, aggressive track and an intimidating challenge to drivers two weekends each year.

When it comes to celebrating the history and excitement the track has seen over 50 years, Dover Motorsports president Mike Tatoian says the goal this year is to thank the fans in the biggest, best ways possible.

Along with nonstop action on the Monster Mile, race weekends will feature activities outside for fans to enjoy.

“I think it’s important to distinguish the responsibility the track promoter has when they host NASCAR race,” Tatoian said. “The sanctioning body is responsible for the product on the track and we’re responsible for everything outside the track. NASCAR has done a great job. They provide a great product on the track, and I don’t worry about that for one minute. From the track’s perspective, we’re getting great races. We know that will take care of itself. Our goal is to provide our fans with probably the most robust entertainment outside of the track that we’ve had in the history of our track.”

With an eclectic mix of attractions, preparing a 50th anniversary celebration and all that goes along with it is a lot of work.

“We started a little bit earlier than normal this year. It takes a year to really formulate plans. As we get closer to race weekend the pace, the tempo, starts to pick up,” he said.

Gary Camp, assistant vice president of marketing and communications, said, “We’ve been

talking and working for over two and a half years. We knew this was coming. “It has provided a lot of neat opportunities to dig back into our archives and chat with people involved in the creation of this place. There’s certainly more work and hype in this. It’s always good when you have more things going on and more energy for the fans.”

Legacy on the track

The “Monster Mile” moniker was created by CEO Denis McGlynn in the 1970s, due to the toll the track took on drivers. It has stuck for decades and its lore has only grown with the addition of the “Miles the Monster” statue -- big enough to hold a life-sized race car in its hand – erected outside the track.

Several drivers have tamed the monster and etched their names in track history.

NASCAR legend Richard Petty won the first race July 6, 1969. More than 10,000 fans watched Petty win by six laps. He led for 150 of the 300 laps, including the final 79. He went on to win three of the first four races, with Bobby Allison winning the other.

In 1983, Allison took the checkered flag in the Budweiser 500 to set an all-time record by winning for the seventh time at the Monster Mile. Allison could enjoy the mark for only a year. Petty equaled it by taking the Budweiser 500 in 1984.

Their record stood for nearly two decades until it was broken by Jimmie Johnson in 2013. He won in 2014, 2015 and 2017, setting the bar at 11 all-time wins at the Monster Mile.

The 11 wins put him in elite company. Only five drivers in NASCAR history have won at least 10 times at a single track. The others are Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Petty.

History at the Monster Mile

A grand idea from Gov. David Buckson funded mainly by Lt. Gov. John Rollins created the arena where memorable moments in NASCAR and sports history occurred.

From record breaking performances to emotional moments, eyes have been fixed on Dover International Speedway as it grew. In 2001, capacity was 135,000 but after 2014, that was reduced to 95,500 seats.

David Pearson was the first driver to sweep a season series, winning both the Mason-Dixon 500 and Delaware 500 in 1973. The two victories in 1973 also made him the first driver to win three in a row at the Monster Mile, duplicated only by Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon.

No one would sweep the series again until Bobby Allison did it a decade later. Since then, Bill Elliott (1988), Dale Earnhardt (1989), Rusty Wallace (1994), Jeff Gordon (1996), Tony Stewart (2000) and Ryan Newman (2003) have also accomplished the feat, while Jimmie Johnson did it twice, in 2002 and 2009.

In 1995, race fans saw the final Cup Series victory by the historic Petty family. Kyle Petty, the third of four racing generations, won the Miller Genuine Draft 500 over a surging Bobby Labonte by less than a quarter of a second. Petty holds the record for the lowest starting position to win at Dover, 37th, the next being Tony Stewart, 27th, in 2000.

President of Dover Motorsports since 2007, Tatoian has seen historic moments at the track, but one stands out.

“In the 50-year history of the track the one that stands out, I wasn’t even employed here, was when Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. won a week after the 9/11 attacks. On the track it was a poignant moment,” Tatoian said.

“At the time, President Bush said for the country to start to heal, sports has to get back to its schedule. We were the first major sporting event after 9/11, so that particular race was a tremendous opportunity for our sport to help heal an entire nation. It was one of the most important events in NASCAR history, but also for the country and the world, that was cool.”

After Earnhardt Jr.’s first and only Dover Cup Series win, he circled the track in his No. 3 Chevrolet while holding a giant American flag out the window.

Camp has been working full-time at Dover for 15 years. He has had a front row seat to some memorable moments at the Monster Mile.

“I was here for the race after 9/11, which sticks in peoples’ mind,” Camp said. “I vividly remember sitting on the track hearing people chant ‘USA, USA, USA.’ “It’s been neat from my perspective to see Jimmie Johnson’s dominance, I remember when he was getting going and no one thought anyone would touch Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Now, he has the most career wins and is an all-around good guy for the sport.”

Loads of fan fun

Along with race-day excitement on the track, Dover International Speedway will celebrate 50 years in style.

The Fanzone, outside Turn 4 near the Monster Monument, is always free to all. There, fans can enjoy displays, games, free samples, live music and a whole lot more.

From the Winston Cup Mobile Museum to stunt shows, micro wrestling to appearances by Charlie Daniels and the Harlem Globetrotters, activities abound.

“I’ve always been a fan of the Harlem Globetrotters. Having them on our property will be great,” Tatoian said. “Ever since I was a kid, I remember watching Curly Neal and Meadowlark Lemon play.”

Camp agreed: “The Harlem Globetrotters show will be great.”

With so much to choose from, the track is encouraging families to come out, whether you’re a huge racing fan or not.

“It’s a family event,” Tatoian said. “Some would ask, ‘What do all of these things have to do with motorsports?’ You don’t have to be a diehard motorsports fan to enjoy the weekend. A lot of

these attractions don’t have anything to do with motorsports, but it has everything to do with family.”