Who is MLJ? Late Delaware Business, Auto Racing Icon Melvin L. Joseph Honored this Weekend at Georgetown Speedway
GEORGETOWN, DE – Standing tall on the Georgetown Speedway backstretch is a 30-foot billboard adorned with the Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company logo and a prominent number: 49.
Each year the Northeast dirt Modified season kicks off in March with a 49-lap race paying homage to Melvin L. Joseph, the man who designed and constructed the Sussex County half-mile track in 1949 and hosted its opening just over 70 years ago in March 1950.
The Melvin L. Joseph Memorial is set to kick off the Georgetown Speedway – and Northeast dirt Modified – season this Friday, March 12 and Saturday, March 13.
Georgetown Speedway’s construction, however, was just the tip of the iceberg that is Joseph’s legacy. Joseph, who passed away 16 years ago on April 6, boasted a plethora of life accomplishments in business and in auto racing.
Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company, based just south of Georgetown on Route 113, celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2020. Joseph, armed with only a sixth-grade education, sheer determination and hard work, took one dump truck and a shovel and built a multi-faceted business empire.
Joseph founded Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company in 1940. However, it was the year 1949 that proved to be a turning point for him in business. His first major contract came in 1949 and he also became a partner in the Ford dealership in Georgetown.
From all the good fortune that year, he declared ‘49’ his lucky number. His license number, license plates, airplanes, horses and race cars all contained the number ‘49’ from that point.
Joseph was also responsible for paving the majority of the roads in Delaware’s Sussex County, the expansion of Summit Airport, and overseeing many projects locally and abroad. Under contract for the Army Corps of Engineers, he led the rebuilding of the Delaware Beaches after the Storm of 1962.
His love of construction led to the development of many prominent First State projects such as Mariner’s Cove (Cozy Cove), Lake View Estates, Oakmont Estates, Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery among many others. Joseph continued to build on his early successes and was involved hands-on with the daily operations of his business enterprises.
Through his strong work ethic, he formed lifelong friendships with area businessmen such as Frank Perdue, Bill Brooks and John Rollins Sr.
Joseph approached auto racing with the same determination and drive he had for business. His passion for speed began on the back roads of Sussex County in his Mercury’s. That love led to the beaches of Florida. In 1955, his cars won both the NASCAR Sportsman and Modified events on the sands of Daytona Beach, Fla., with drivers Banjo Matthews and Vince Conrad.
Joseph became a pioneer in the development of NASCAR and developed a close relationship with Bill France Sr.
In 1959, Joseph’s car – driven by Banjo Matthews – won the race by three miles in the first NASCAR Modified race on the newly built Daytona International Speedway
Perhaps the most notable – and controversial – “win” for Joseph in NASCAR came at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, N.C., on Aug. 6, 1971 with Bobby Allison as his driver. At the time sponsorship money was reduced from the ‘Big Three’ Detroit auto manufacturers, leading to less-than-full fields at some of the smaller purse events.
To bolster car count, NASCAR allowed teams from the Grand American Series – and their pony cars – to compete against the more powerful Grand National Series cars.
Allison opted to drive Joseph’s No. 49 Mustang, much more nimble than the bigger Grand National counterparts, on the quarter-mile oval and took the checkered with a three-second advantage over Richard Petty. Ultimately NASCAR did not credit Allison with a Grand National win (they listed it as Grand American) and that event, to this day, does not have a recognized Grand National (now Cup series) winner in the sanctioning body’s record books.
“I am trying to get that (win) reinstated,” Allison said during an appearance at Georgetown Speedway in 2018 at the Melvin L. Joseph Memorial. “There are a couple of reasons. One, Melvin Joseph deserves credit for it. And also, that would put me one win ahead of Darrell Waltrip (on the all-time NASCAR Cup win list, where Allison and Waltrip are tied for 84). I need that!”
Allison and Joseph developed a friendship that withstood the test of time. To this day, Allison watches the races at Dover International Speedway from the Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company suite. Allison thought back to the start of their relationship.
“I was dragging an old Modified around with my pick-up truck going up and down the road,” Allison said. “I went out of my way coming from New Jersey to come by Georgetown Speedway and Melvin Joseph’s company, just to see the thing with my own eyes. That was before I even knew him, before I got to know him.
“Melvin Joseph was my hero.”
Joseph’s cars were driven by many of the sport’s biggest stars of the day. Just some of those to strap into his fast Fords were Bobby Allison, Banjo Matthews, Vince Conrad, David Pearson, Tiny Lund, Marvin Panch, Joe Weatherly, Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Ralph Moody, Fonty Flock, Reds Kagle, Johnny Roberts, Johnny Martin and many others.
When the time came to develop a NASCAR facility in Delaware, Joseph led the way. He utilized his established rapport with NASCAR leadership to construct Dover International Speedway. Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company was contracted to build the one-mile speedway, which hosted its first race in 1969.
Another monumental challenge was successfully met by Joseph during the 1994-1995 off-season. Dover was to be converted from asphalt to concrete, a project many doubted due to the track’s 24-degree banked turns. Joseph teamed up with John and Tom Madden of Atlantic Contracting to design specialty equipment to span the entire track and produce a seamless concrete surface.
The concrete surface from ’94 remains in use at Dover, outlasting the traditional pavement utilized at all NASCAR top-tier facilities other than Dover and Bristol, Tenn.
Joseph was appointed to the board of what was then Dover Downs Inc. in ’69 and later served on the Board of Directors for Dover Motorsports Inc. as the Vice President and Director of Auto Racing, a position held at the time of his passing. He also served on the Board of Directors for Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment Inc.
Joseph gave the drivers the command to start engines at every NASCAR Cup race at Dover from ’69 through ’04.
Local dirt-track racing was not lost on Joseph. He led the design and construction of Georgetown Speedway’s half-mile oval starting in ’49. The speedway opened on March 18, 1950 with Johnny Martin in the ‘Percent Sign’ car owned by George Bower winning over Bill Raughley and Bob Atkins.
Appropriately, during the ’18 edition of the Melvin L. Joseph Memorial event, the State of Delaware placed a Historical Marker at the entrance of Georgetown Speedway, recognizing its legacy in the First State.
The marker reads: “Built in 1949 by businessman and auto racing pioneer Melvin L. Joseph, many racing legends got their start at Georgetown’s half-mile dirt oval. The Delaware Stock Car Racing Association sanctioned the first race at the speedway on March 18, 1950. The speedway was NASCAR-sanctioned from 1953-1957 and from 1959-1965. Over the years, the Georgetown Speedway has become well-known across the country for its role in the development of stock car racing.”
The Melvin L. Joseph family of companies remain strong supporters of Georgetown Speedway via sponsorship support and the use of heavy equipment, dump trucks and more.
Known for his successes and business and motorsports, Joseph had a love of horses and aviation. He created a state-of-the-art horse training facility in Georgetown producing winners such as Mr. Forty Nine, Tyler’s Point and Crossfire.
Located behind the construction company is a hangar and a 4,858-foot runway utilized by Joseph for his personal aircraft and those of his close friends.
Joseph’s sense of adventure led him to off-short salvage work. In the mid-1970s, he teamed with treasure hunter Mel Fisher.
Joseph financed the expedition that led to the discovery of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, a Spanish galleon that sank in 1622 off the Florida Keys. The search yielded one of the greatest discoveries of sunken Spanish treasures in the world to date. A portion of Joseph’s share is on display at the “Treasures of the Sea” exhibit at the Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown.
Joseph passed away at his place of business on April 6, 2005. The company legacy continues under the leadership of his grandson, Ken Adams, who leads the Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company, M.L. Joseph Sand & Gravel (founded in 1990) in addition to a variety of other business interests in Sussex County, Del.
For the sixth consecutive season, BD Motorsports Media LLC opens its Georgetown Speedway season with the Melvin L. Joseph Memorial.
The weekend pinnacle is the 49-lap, $10,049-plus-to-win Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series (STSS) Fueled By Sunoco Modified opener for the Velocita-USA South Region presented by Design for Vision and Sunglass Central on Saturday (March 13). This event boasts a $33,889 minimum pay structure ($490 to take the green) plus plentiful bonuses, special awards and certificates.
Melvin L. Joseph Construction Company has generously added $49 per lap, a total of $2,401, which will be distributed through the top-seven running order during the event.
The Saturday program also includes the STSS Crate 602 Sportsman Belmont’s Garage South Region opener (25 laps, $1,549 to win) plus 12-lap features for the Little Lincolns, Delaware Super Trucks and Delmarva Chargers.
Friday night (March 12) kicks off the weekend with Small-Block Modifieds headlining the program offering $4,049 to the winner for 30 laps. Also competing on Friday are the RUSH Late Models (20 laps, $1,049 to win) plus 12-lap features for the Southern Delaware Vintage Stock Cars, Delaware Super Trucks and Delmarva Chargers.
Practice laps will also be available to STSS Modifieds and STSS Crate 602 Sportsman on Friday night. The two fastest drivers (single-lap time, overall) will advance automatically into Saturday’s redraws.
A complete information center for the Melvin L. Joseph Memorial has been set up on the Short Track Super Series website (www.shorttracksuperseries.com).
Weekend Breakdown, Times & Pricing: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/MelvinLJosephTimesPricingInformation2021.pdf
STSS Modified Pay Structure: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/MelvinLJosephMemorialSTSSModifiedPayStructure.pdf
Small-Block Modified Pay Structure: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/MelvinLJosephMemorialSmallBlockModifiedPayStructure.pdf
STSS Crate 602 Sportsman Pay Structure: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/MelvinLJosephMemorialCrate602PayStructure.pdf
RUSH Late Model Pay Structure: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/MelvinLJosephMemorialRUSHLMPayStructure.pdf
STSS Modified Entry Form: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2021MelvinJosephSTSSModifiedEntryForm.pdf
Small-Block Modified Entry Form: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2021MelvinJosephSmallBlockModified.pdf
STSS Crate 602 Sportsman Entry Form: http://shorttracksuperseries.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2021MelvinJosephSTSSCrate602EntryForm.pdf
There is no entry fee for the RUSH Late Model event during Melvin L. Joseph Memorial weekend.
Georgetown Speedway, originally constructed by Melvin L. Joseph in 1949, is located at the intersection of Route 113 and Speedway Road in Georgetown, Del., just miles from the Delaware beaches and less than a 40-minute drive from Ocean City, Md.
A website is live for the speedway at www.thegeorgetownspeedway.com. Like Georgetown Speedway on Facebook, follow @thegtownspdwy on Twitter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the speedway hotline at 302.563.GTWN (4896).
To learn more about the Short Track Super Series Fueled By Sunoco, visit www.shorttracksuperseries.com, e-mail email@example.com, check out ‘Short Track Super Series’ on Facebook or @ShortTrackSS on Twitter or Instagram.
The Short Track Super Series is presented by American Racer/Lias Tire, Sunoco Race Fuel, Insinger Performance, Bob Hilbert Sportswear, Hurlock Auto & Speed, Velocita-USA, Design for Vision/Sunglass Central, Behrent’s Performance Warehouse, Beyea Custom Headers, Bicknell Racing Products, Dirt Track Digest, EIBACH Springs, Fast Axle, Fox Racing Shocks, Henry’s Exhaust, Hig Fab, HyperCo, Kirkey Racing Fabrication, K&N, Precision Hydraulic & Oil, Belmont’s Garage, QA1, Racing Optics, Superior Remodeling, Teo-Pro Car, VAHLCO, WELD Racing & Wilwood.