July 6, 1969.
It was two weeks before Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon, and a little less than two months before a music festival in upstate New York known as Woodstock would become a generational touchstone.
It was also the day that the first NASCAR race was held at Dover International Speedway, the “Mason-Dixon 300,” won by Richard Petty by a whopping six-lap margin.
Petty has called the first Dover race NASCAR’s “invasion of the North.” Since that time, not only has the NASCAR Cup Series remained, but others have followed, looking to conquer the track known throughout motorsports as “The Monster Mile.”
The brainchild of former Delaware Gov. David Buckson, with funding largely provided by Delaware businessman and former Lt. Gov. John Rollins, construction on the facility began in August 1967 by the Melvin L. Joseph Construction Co. in Georgetown. The site was formerly occupied by a farm and a small airstrip.
The highly banked track’s surface was changed from asphalt to concrete between the 1994 and 1995 racing seasons and is commonly rated by top drivers as among their favorite tracks, where speeds can reach up to 170 miles per hour.
Along with Petty, drivers who have won in the NASCAR’s top series at Dover include top performers in auto racing history, namely Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough.
Annually the home to the biggest sporting event crowds seen in Delaware, the NASCAR Cup Series races commonly attracted more than 130,000 fans twice per year to Dover during the sport’s peak popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In addition to NASCAR events, the Speedway has also hosted races coordinated by the Indy Racing League and the United States Auto Club.
In 2019, Dover International Speedway marks its 50th anniversary season, and hosts its 100th NASCAR Cup Series event.
TIPPIE’S INFLUENCE AND LEADERSHIP
Henry B. Tippie, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dover Motorsports, Inc. and Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, Inc., has been instrumental in the success of both companies.
Tippie began working for John W. Rollins and Associates in February 1953, when he moved to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to begin what he would later often call the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
While at Rollins, Mr. Tippie helped John W. Rollins, Sr. and his brother, O. Wayne Rollins, expand a conglomerate that included holdings in car dealerships, billboards, radio stations and broadcasting.
John W. Rollins, Sr. later financed the building of Dover International Speedway.
“This has been an interesting place, to see how it’s come from nothing … to what’s here today,” said Henry Tippie in an interview with the Delaware State News in October 2015. “We had a lot more hits than misses.”
“Dover Motorsports and Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment wouldn’t be the organizations they are today without Henry Tippie,” added Dover Motorsports President and CEO Denis McGlynn. “His leadership and guidance over the last several decades have made these companies a cornerstone of the entertainment and recreational offerings in the mid-Atlantic region.”
Born in Belle Plaine, Iowa in 1927, Mr. Tippie has awarded hundreds of scholarships to Iowa high school students, starting in 1968, and has also contributed to the library, airport and museum in his hometown of Belle Plaine.
In 1996, Mr. Tippie received the Horatio Alger Award, which emphasizes higher education and overcoming adversity on the way to success. Fellow Horatio Alger Award winners include former U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford.
DOVER DOWNS HOTEL & CASINO
At the same time engines were firing on the motorsports track, the stables were filling up with some of the top race horses in the region. Dover Downs hosted its first thoroughbred racing card on March 8, 1969, and first harness racing card on Nov. 19, 1969. Thoroughbreds raced at Dover until 1974. Today, Dover Downs’ harness racing meet typically runs from November to April.
Legislation allowing slot machines at Delaware pari-mutuel horse racing facilities led to the opening of Dover Downs Slots with 500 slot (video lottery) machines on Dec. 29, 1995.
Today, the casino features more than 2,300 slot machines, as well as table games such as poker, blackjack and craps, which were legalized in 2010. Just the year before, in 2009, parlay professional football betting was also legalized.
Dover Downs became two publicly traded companies in 2002, with Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment and Dover Motorsports, Inc. established.
That same year, Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center opened with 232 rooms. Today, it is the largest hotel in Delaware with 500 rooms.
Meanwhile, the Rollins Center has hosted top singers, comedians and professional boxing events since 2002.
Among the acts to perform at the Rollins Center are Ray Charles, Boyz II Men, Wayne Newton, Tracy Morgan and En Vogue.
FIREFLY MUSIC FESTIVAL
More musical acts annually visit The Woodlands at Dover International Speedway between its two NASCAR weekends as part of the Firefly Music Festival, the mid-Atlantic’s largest musical gathering.
The Firefly Music Festival was first held in July 2012 and hosted 48 national music acts over three days. In just seven years, Firefly has grown to an event that hosts upwards of 90,000 fans per day, with more than 100 acts playing across a dozen stages, earning a top-five U.S. music festival designation by Rolling Stone magazine.
Headliners for 2019 included Post Malone, Panic! at the Disco and Travis Scott.
Notable acts that have appeared at Firefly include Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eminem, Foo Fighters, Outkast, The Black Keys, Jack White, Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons and Kendrick Lamar.