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Dover International Speedway seeks change of pace to draw new racing fans

Nick Ciolino
Delaware Public Media

Before the recession of 2008, the NASCAR fans who swarmed to Dover International Speedway twice year – and there were many more then than there are today – were a different lot.

“They didn’t ask for much,” says Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports Inc. “They just wanted to see the race, and they wanted a campground that was comfortable, and they wanted to buy souvenirs.”

“Nothing can replace seeing the event live and in person,” says McGlynn’s right-hand man, Mike Tatoian, the speedway’s president and CEO.

But anyone listening to McGlynn and Tatoian will quickly learn that there’s far more to a race weekend in Dover than three afternoons of cars (or trucks) zooming around the banked oval known as the Monster Mile at speeds well in excess of 100 mph.

Take this weekend, for example.

Yes, there’s a 200-mile truck series race on Friday and a 200-mile auto race on Saturday as preliminaries to Sunday’s 400-mile Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

But there are also plenty of activities in the Fan Zone, which includes a special section for children, and in other areas around the track. Special events include:

  • Three Sunday shows by the Harlem Globetrotters
  • Three sets of Micro Wrestling matches on both Saturday and Sunday
  • A 50th Anniversary Bash on Saturday afternoon, featuring appearances by NASCAR icons Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and Jimmy Johnson, and performances by Sam Grow, John Rich and Cowboy Troy
  • A screening of “Jurassic World” on Saturday night
  • Fireworks on Saturday night
  • A Q&A with driver Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday
  • A free concert Sunday featuring the Charlie Daniels Band, with an appearance by John Rich
  • A Hot Rod and Collector Car Show on Saturday and Sunday

Food options have expanded considerably from the days when fans would wash down their hot dogs with a soda or beer. This year’s visitors can choose from offerings at three food trucks, plus tents and pop-ups featuring Grotto Pizza, Rita’s Water Ice, crab cakes, popcorn and other delights.
SoDel Concepts, the Rehoboth-based restaurant group, is preparing 10 Delaware-themed food treats. The tantalizing concoctions include the Jimmie Jam, with hand-crafted griddled scrapple, a footlong hot dog, fresh lobster and apple slaw; the Sticky Icky Fried Rice Bowl, with chicken morsels, shaved vegetables, fried egg and special sauce; and the Turn 1 Delaware Half Smoke, with a pork and beef link, sauerkraut and beer mustard.

Draft beers from First State breweries Fordham & Dominion (Dover), Mispillion River Brewing (Milford) and Blue Earl Brewing (Smyrna) will be available during the 50th Anniversary Bash and Fordham & Dominion’s special anniversary Splash & Go lager will be available all weekend long.

In addition, the first 15,000 fans arriving for Sunday’s race will receive a free 1:64-scale Monster Mile 50th Anniversary die-cast car.

“The focal point is always going to be the product on the track,” Tatoian says, “but the Globetrotters, Charlie Daniels, all the entertainment – that’s to keep our current fans happy and to attract new fans. It’s really a circus – live music, great food, a community event.”

The Dover fan demographic – 55 percent male, primarily in the 45-50 age range, is similar to NASCAR’s overall fan base, Tatoian says, but the future of the business depends on “attracting their kids or their kids’ kids…. If you don’t hook them at a young age, it gets tougher and tougher. We want the fan who returns two, three, four, five times, so it becomes a tradition.”

In another venture to attract future fans, Dover runs an annual contest for fifth-graders at 32 schools in five states to design the wrapping for the track’s pace car. This year’s winner, Nakaiya Burbage of Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in Bridgeville, will get VIP treatment on Sunday, including a special shout-out before the race.

In addition, Dover is making it easier for fans to make race weekends a family event, offering free admission on Friday and Saturday for ages 12 and under, and a special $10 ticket price for Sunday.

“We put a lot of time and energy into the entertainment surrounding the race,” McGlynn says. “We’re trying to get people to come out and experience it, especially

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.
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