Janitorial foreman Leon Davis has helped keep the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club sparkling for more than 40 years

By Kelley Carlson

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will shine during its diamond anniversary this year, due to the efforts of Leon Davis and his janitorial crew.

It was a quick turnaround between the end of the San Diego County Fair and the start of the 75th racing season — quicker than most people realize. Although the fair was over July 5, its crew and equipment were not out until July 9 — only nine days before the racing season started on July 18. Until the 9th, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club janitorial staff did some preliminary work.

“We try to stay out of the fair’s way, but we get our stuff done, too,” said Davis, DMTC’s janitorial foreman.

To get an idea of the magnitude of his job, Davis and his crew were responsible for cleaning six floors in the Stretch Run and five floors in the Clubhouse — and that’s just the grandstand. The 74-year-old Davis also had to perform maintenance on other buildings on the grounds and the infield. Then there was everything on the backside, where there are 109 restrooms alone.

Among Davis’ and his crew’s specific duties were to shampoo all the carpets; strip and wax the floors; clean the tracks on the elevators; make sure the luxury suites were clean and ready to open, as well as all the mutuel windows on every floor; all the restrooms were cleaned and stocked; orders were placed for items such as paper towels, toilet paper, seat covers, several sizes of trash bags and hand soap — in which the initial order was expected to total about $36,000; put in 15 copiers and 21 refrigerators throughout the offices and rooms; make sure water was plentiful, as the DMTC goes through about 300 5-gallon bottles of water a week during racing season; and make sure the roofs stayed clean.

Two days after the fair ended, 12 members of the janitorial staff were working to get the DMTC in tip-top shape. As the days went on, Davis gradually called in more help and, as of July 17, all 74 employees were back on board, ready for another racing season at the seaside oval.

It’s a labor of love for Davis, who began working as a janitor at the DMTC in 1969. He became a janitorial foreman in 1981, and has been overseeing all crews since 1987.

Davis said working for the DMTC is one of the best jobs in the United States — high praise from a man who said he “loved every minute of the eight years, nine months and 33 days” he spent in the Army before that.

“I don’t want to say Leon has been here a long, long time, but I think he was the one who showed Bing Crosby where the fairgrounds was back before we opened,” joked Joe Harper, DMTC’s president and CEO.

“Really, though,” Harper continued, “Leon is one of our longest-serving and best employees. If we all had Leon’s good attitude and friendly style, the world would be a lot better off. He and his crew are here both early and late, and if it wasn’t for all the good work that they put in, things would get awful shabby awful quick. They keep this place spic and span and allow folks to focus on all its beauty.”

During the racing season, Davis — a resident of Rancho Penasquitos — works seven days a week. On Opening Day, he planned to arrive at 3 a.m. and stay until about 9 at night. (Davis was interviewed before Opening Day.)

“We want Opening Day to run smoothly and right,” Davis said. “Opening Day is always amazing.”

The janitorial foreman and his crew keep up maintenance of all the areas during the 37-day meet, and Davis helps out other staff members as needed.

“I work for every department during the races,” he said.

The crew has three scrubbers for the floors, which they go over daily, and they clean up spills as soon as they are made.

One of the bizarre occurrences that happens every year that Davis just can’t quite understand — the door always gets pulled open on the sanitary napkin machines in the women’s restrooms.

“They only have to spend a quarter!” he said.

After racing season ends — which this year is Sept. 5 — the janitorial staff drops down to two — Davis and Jose Cruz, who cleans the executive suites, operations and group sales offices.

Davis, who works year-round, will pick up and distribute the mail, and make sure everything is shipped. He also will deliver stages to the Powerhouse Community Center the first Thursday of every month for the Del Mar Foundation’s popular series of lectures and concerts.

And it will be just Davis and Cruz until the end of next year’s fair.

“I love my job,” said Davis, who added that the DMTC gives him energy. “If you like your job, it helps a lot.

“I wish the (racing) season were longer,” he said.