Dunning leaves lasting legacy at Monster Mile | Dover International Speedway

News

December 15, 2016

Dunning leaves lasting legacy at Monster Mile

Longtime Dover International Speedway official calls it a career after 44 years

NASCAR celebrates its milestone eras with the drivers that dominated the sport’s landscape at the time.

Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have each been leaders in the garage area for their respective generations, earning championships, accolades and legions of fans.

Dover International Speedway Senior Vice President and General Manager Jerry Dunning was honored on Thursday, Dec. 15 with a luncheon marking his retirement after a 44-year career.

Dover International Speedway has been a proving ground for all these icons. And, as 2016 comes to a close, the Monster Mile is marking the end of its own milestone era with the retirement of Senior Vice President and General Manager Jerry Dunning after a 44-year career.

“My wife would say [the Speedway] is my first child,” jokes Dunning as he reflected on his career. Since his start in the maintenance department in 1972, Dunning, a Delaware native, has been involved with every major project at Dover International Speedway and Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, as well as Dover Motorsports Inc.’s other holdings.

Dunning’s career was honored on Thursday, Dec. 15 with a celebratory luncheon at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino’s Rollins Center. Approximately 150 family members, friends and co-workers attended the ceremony, which was highlighted by a video montage featuring Dunning’s Speedway colleagues and NASCAR officials.

“It would not be an overstatement to say that Dover Downs and Dover International Speedway, as they stand today, are very much the ‘Houses that Dunning built,’ Denis McGlynn, Dover Motorsports’ president and CEO, told the Delaware State News earlier this year.

“Jerry has basically had a hand in every significant development here over the last 44 years. Whether it was designing something, building something or determining how things should flow, everything had his fingerprints on it.”

***

Dunning’s 44-year journey began in the fall of 1972, as he interviewed for a position at the Speedway’s maintenance department.

At that time, the track was barely three years old, and had hosted just six NASCAR Premier Series races. In the mid-1960s, the area where the Speedway was constructed was nothing but farmland and a small, aging airfield.

“They needed somebody to help manage the labor crew and work with outside operations,” Dunning said. “I came in, interviewed and got hired.”

When first constructed, Dover Downs was a one-of-a-kind facility that featured thoroughbred and harness racing, in addition to its annual motorsports events. At first, the ponies were the most popular option for the entertainment dollar.

“Auto racing hadn’t really caught on yet,” Dunning recalled. “Horse racing was the driver [of the property]. I can remember 16, 17 buses lined up to pick people up after watching the horses.

“I had never seen an auto race at an oval track except the Indy 500 [before I started working here]. This was before NASCAR was regularly on TV.”

As the 1970s went on, and Dunning moved up the ranks among Speedway personnel, NASCAR began to gain a foothold among the local fans.

At the same time, one driver stood out among the stars as the top ambassador for the sport.

“Petty was the best,” Dunning said. “He was always so graceful, so personable. More than anyone else from the era, he took the time to show interest in the fans.”

***

As NASCAR’s popularity began to boom, Dover International Speedway grew along with it.

Beginning in the 1980s, what was a sleepy race track transformed into an all-encompassing entertainment venue – including today’s Dover Downs Hotel & Casino – and welcomed hundreds of thousands of race fans per year to its NASCAR weekends in the spring and the fall.

Starting in 1986, the Speedway added permanent seats for 16 consecutive years through 2001. The largest growth years came from 1997-2001, when more than 56,000 permanent seats were built, bumping the Speedway’s capacity up to 133,000.

In the middle of the expansion came what may have been Dunning’s most important project – working with Melvin Joseph to replace the Monster Mile’s asphalt with concrete after the fall 1994 NASCAR Premier Series race.

“It was a really interesting project and it was a big deal,” Dunning said. “After the September race was over … it was quite a challenge.”

While the next NASCAR weekend wasn’t scheduled until June 1995, Dunning, the contractors and their teams only had a few precious weeks to work with before the track’s harness racing season began in full force.

Asphalt was taken up and concrete was poured over a two-week period. Fences had to be removed and replaced as the deadline forced by the facility’s harness schedule loomed.

Luckily, the weather cooperated as rain fell only during one night of the transition. The same concrete layering machine was used during the construction of Nashville Superspeedway in 2000.

“People around the country don’t realize the challenges we face with doing major projects here,” Dunning said. “Because of what we offer, we just don’t have access to some areas of the facility all the time.”

In addition to grandstand seat construction and the concrete placement, Dunning’s other marquee Dover Motorsports projects included:

  • The Walkover Bridge in Turn 2 in 1995 and the Monster Bridge in Turn 3 prior to the 2004 racing season.
  • The building and expansion of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, which first opened in December 1995.
  • Adding luxury suites to the top of the frontstretch grandstand, starting in the late 1990s.
  • Nashville Superspeedway construction in 2000.
  • Adding SAFER barriers to the Monster Mile and other Dover Motorsports tracks (Gateway (Ill.) International Raceway, Memphis (Tenn.) Motorsports Park and Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway) starting in the mid-2000s. There is 6,500 feet of SAFER barriers at the Monster Mile alone.
  • Construction of Dover’s Turn 1 Media Center in 1985.
  • The Monster Makeover, which included the construction of the now-famous Monster Monument, presented by Smithfield. “Miles the Monster” has become the globally-known symbol of Dover International Speedway. The mini-version of the statue serves as the winner’s trophy for Dover’s six NASCAR races, and is one of the most coveted prizes in the sport.
  • Contributing to planning operations for the Firefly Music Festival, the mid-Atlantic’s premier music festival which attracts 90,000 fans over a four-day period in June.
  • Installation of the new catch fence in 2015.
  • Oversight of Dover Motorsports Inc.’s grand prix events in Long Beach, Calif., Denver and St. Petersburg., Fla.

***

Through his career, one of Dunning’s annual highlights was visiting the NASCAR Premier Series Awards banquet, first at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, then at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

The gala affair puts a cap on that year’s racing and honors the top finishers and champion of the season.

“You look around that room and you start to think,” Dunning said. “You see million-dollar team owners, celebrities, music stars, you realize that you’re a part of something that’s a pretty big deal.”

The executives in those ballrooms who trace their NASCAR roots back to the early 1970s, with the majority of cars coming in on trailers with canvas tops, certainly realize that one of Dover’s “big deals” through the years has been Dunning himself.

“Jerry’s one of the guys I remember at Dover from day one,” said Mike Helton, NASCAR’s vice chairman and chief operating officer. “We grew up in the sport together. The facility has so many elements to it that Jerry is responsible for. We’ll feel his impact for many generations to come as we race in Dover.”

“He’s one of the key reasons Dover International Speedway is so successful,” adds David Hoots, NASCAR’s racing director.

Dunning says there is no grand secret to the best way to accomplish large projects – no matter the size of the team. When he was first hired, the Speedway maintenance team could be counted on less than two hands.

Today, including seasonal workers, the team numbers more than 70.

“You hire good people, let them do the job, and you’ll be successful,” Dunning states.

***

As 2017 dawns, Dunning is looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 38 years Candace, his sons Josh and Brandon, their wives Allison and Jes, and his grandchildren Rory and Nola.

Upcoming adventures include a two-week trip to Ireland scheduled for this summer.

Dunning says he’ll probably be around the office in the new year, putting the finishing touches on some final projects. But his legacy and efforts around Dover International Speedway will be evident long after 2017 is in the rear-view mirror.

“No one could have envisioned what this place has become since I first started here,” Dunning says.

“For someone who grew up in a Kent County farming community, my relationship with the track is probably the only way I would have been able to experience some of the things I have. It’s been quite a ride.”

Comments

comments

Posted by:

1209 Views

Dover Motorsports, Inc. (NYSE: DVD) is a leading promoter of NASCAR sanctioned motorsports events whose subsidiaries own and operate Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. and Nashville Superspeedway near Nashville, Tenn. The company also plays host to the Firefly Music Festival, produced by Red Frog Events and Goldenvoice. For more information, visit www.DoverMotorsports.com.