What is 49?

Melvin L. Joseph was born on August 4, 1921, in Georgetown, Del., the son of the late Harry and Ella Mae Joseph. In 1940, Joseph, with only a sixth-grade education, sheer determination and hard work, took one dump truck and a shovel and turned it into a multi-faceted business empire. He was a well-respected contractor and developer with many other interests including auto racing, horse racing, treasure hunting and aviation.

Joseph was the founder, owner and operator of Melvin L. Joseph Construction Co. Inc. since 1940 and M.L. Joseph Sand and Gravel founded in 1990. His first big contract was in 1949 and that same year he became a partner in the Ford Dealership in Georgetown. From all the good luck that year he declared the number 49 his lucky number. Melvin's license number, license plates, airplanes, horses and race cars all contained the number 49. He was also responsible for paving the majority of the roads in 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 on construction led to the development of many prominent 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 businesses up until his death. Through his strong work ethic, he formed lifelong friendships with area business men such as Frank Perdue, Bill Brooks and John Rollins Sr.

Joseph was a pioneer in the development of NASCAR. His passion for racing began on the back roads of Sussex County in his suped-up Mercury's which led to the beaches of Daytona, Fla. In 1955, his cars won both the NASCAR Sportsman and Modified Events on the sands of Daytona Beach, Fla. In 1959, Joseph's car, driven by Banjo Matthews, won the race by an amazing three miles in the first NASCAR Modified race on the newly built Daytona International Speedway. Another racing highlight includes owning one of the cars that Bobby Allison drove to many victories. His racing involvement led to lifelong friendships with racing legends such as Bobby Allison, Ralph Moody, Bobby Unser, AJ Foyt, Junior Johnson, Junie Donlavey and numerous others.

Melvin designed and built Dover Downs International Speedway, now Dover International Speedway (motorsports) and Dover Downs Raceway (harness racing), and gave drivers the command to start their engines at every NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Race in Dover from 1969 through 2004. Joseph was originally appointed to the board of what was then Dover Downs Inc. in the same year. At the time of his death, Joseph served on the Board of Directors for Dover Motorsports Inc. as the Vice President and Director of Auto Racing. He also served on the Board of Directors for Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment Inc. Joseph served as a consultant for the construction of Nashville Superspeedway, a Dover Motorsports Inc. track. Additionally, he oversaw the 1994 repaving project at Dover International Speedway that transformed the asphalt into the current concrete surface. His ideas, innovations, and dedication greatly contributed to the success of Dover Motorsports Inc. His many accomplishments in the sport of auto racing led to his induction into the Delaware Sports Museum Hall of Fame in 2002.

Joseph had a passion for local dirt-track racing. In 1949, he led the design and construction of Georgetown Speedway in his hometown of Georgetown. The half-mile clay oval opened in 1950 and remains in operation today.

Joseph's love of horses led to the creation of his state-of-the-art horse training facility in Georgetown, which created such winners as Mr. Forty Nine, Tyler's Point and Crossfire. They've all won races and set records up and down the East Coast.

Joseph's sense of adventure led him to off-shore salvage work. In the mid-1970s Joseph 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.

Through his friendship, loyalty, confidence and unselfish dedication to the Delaware State Police and Camp Barnes, Joseph was made an honorary staff officer in 1978. He also received an honorary Associates Degree in Applied Science from the Delaware Technical and Community College.

Joseph passed away on April 6, 2005 at his place of business. His company legacy continues under the leadership of his grandson, Ken Adams.

Credit: The News Journal | Published: 04/10/2005