Let’s Get Creative With the Route 1 Rivalry

Delaware will continue the Route 1 Rivalry in 2025. This is a kind deed but a move to a certain venue can significantly benefit the Route 1 Rivalry.

Delaware State and Delaware will open the 2024 and 2025 season against one another.
Source: Brad Glazier / Delaware Public Media

In September, I declared the Route 1 Rivalry dead upon Delaware’s arrival to the FBS ranks. Today, I am glad to say I was wrong. The Blue Hens’ first game as a Conference USA member will be a Thursday night matchup against Delaware State on August 28, 2025.

Giving Delaware State an FBS money game is a kind deed from Delaware. They could have left the Route 1 Rivalry in the past with Flosports and the supposed ruined “neighborhood” that Delaware left in the CAA. (I haven’t forgotten about this, Delaware News Journal reporter Kevin Tresolini). Instead, the Blue Hens proved me wrong in a good way and kept the series with Delaware State alive for at least one year.

Still, I think there’s more that Delaware can do for the good of this rivalry. The Blue Hens should play one game against Delaware State at Dover Motor Speedway. This concept was an idea my friend and fellow Patriot League fan, Lehigh Football Nation, or @LFN on X/Twitter, had in a Twitter space a while back. I loved it immediately.

Football games at NASCAR venues are one of sports’ rarest occurrences but still one of its greatest spectacles. A pair of games at Bristol Motor Speedway, 2016’s Virginia Tech-Tennessee and its lesser-known sequel, East Tennessee State-Western Carolina, which occurred the following week, are the only college football games played at a NASCAR speedway since Bethune-Cookman played home games at Daytona International Speedway in 1975 (special thanks to Mark Pollak’s book, The Proving Grounds of College Football for being the source of that info).

I have advocated for football games at racetracks before. (You can read that here). Maybe it will become my schtick. Nevertheless, aside from being a rare gimmick, there are other ways both schools can benefit tremendously from a game at Dover Motor Speedway.

Dover Motor Speedway seats 54,000 fans. Delaware has a loyal fanbase and averaged 15,164 fans per home game, filling 86% of the 18,500-seat Delaware Stadium. The Blue Hens’ highest home attendance figure came not against a CAA foe but against Duquesne from the NEC, an opponent with limited brand appeal or history against Delaware. If over 18,500 fans can show up for a paycheck game against Duquesne, one can imagine 20,000-25,000 Blue Hens fans showing up for the first football game at Delaware Motor Speedway.

Additionally, Delaware State has only hosted the rivalry once, during the 2021 Spring season, out of 11 meetings. Bringing the rivalry to Dover, but in a large venue, is a compromise that Delaware State deserves.

It is hard for the college football world to overlook a school in a conference with six members. Yet, somehow, Delaware State has accomplished this. The Hornets have had one MEAC title since 1991, winning the league in 2007. A pair of 5-3 Conference finishes in 2012 and 2013 are the closest Delaware State has come to a MEAC title since then, meaning the Hornets have come nowhere close to Black College Football’s biggest stage, the Celebration Bowl, and the spoils associated with it.

To say the Hornets can benefit from a highly-publicized neutral site game is an understatement. The Hornets have not appeared in a neutral site HBCU classic since their 2010 appearance in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge, in which they have no future appearances currently scheduled. Playing at Dover Motor Speedway makes up for the classics that have constantly passed on the Hornets to a degree.

More importantly, this game benefits Delaware beyond money and exposure. Delaware News Journal writer Kevin Tresolini’s "There goes the neighborhood" remark regarding poor attendance for the Hampton-Delaware game revealed a sad reality.

In using a remark associated with the departure of White families from urban neighborhoods to the suburbs and categorizing Hampton as inferior, Tresolini displayed the disconnect between the University of Delaware community and the local African American population. (Chris Stevens of HBCUSports.com does a wonderful dive into the connotations of this remark, which you can read here).

Despite Hampton’s multiple Black College Football National Championships and Heritage Bowl wins under Joe Taylor and their academic prowess, Delaware still felt the Pirates were inferior. Making the Route 1 Rivalry a special event is a step towards Delaware State gaining more respect from the Delaware community as an institution.

I will not act like Delaware playing Delaware State at a NASCAR race track will mend the years of avoidance of the Hornets or quell the frustration with Tresolini’s remark altogether. Nonetheless, it would represent a step in the right direction. Dover Motor Speedway hosting the Route 1 Rivalry would cement it as Delaware’s preeminent sporting event, even if it only occurs occasionally. Both schools can make it an event to promote and recognize both institutions’ contributions as the flagship universities of the First State.

Moving the Route 1 Rivalry to Dover Motor Speedway will not make it a high-profile event on the college football calendar. However, it would go a long way to easing some of the tension between the two schools and give it the respect it deserves. What may seem like a novelty game at a racetrack will mean much more to the state than anyone can imagine.