North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has pledged to act against Ace Speedway in Alamance County after the track once again defied a state order that limits mass gatherings of more than 25 people for the third week in a row.
The track first reopened from the coronavirus pandemic on May 23, but only after Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson refused to enforce the mass gathering order under a conviction that it was unconstitutional. The track has now hosted three events and has averaged nearly 2,000 fans packed from shoulder-to-shoulder around the .400-mile track in Altamahaw.
Johnson indicated that he would relent to the governor’s office on Friday upon receiving a letter signed by general counsel William McKinney. That letter stated that if Johnson did not enforce the order, Gov. Cooper would be forced to take further action to protect the health and safety of the people of Alamance County and North Carolina.
The track then declared that the CARS Tour Race at Ace 125 this past weekend would be held in protest of injustice and inequality everywhere.
The decision made by track operators Robert and Jason Turner was essentially a response to the nationwide protests stemming from the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota last month.
Protests and riots followed in the name of racial injustice and inequality, with Gov. Cooper himself marching in one of the protests in Raleigh. The right to assemble and protest is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The Turners, looking for a loophole around Cooper’s order, then declared their next event as peaceful protest.
That was enough for Sheriff Johnson to once again permit the event to continue without oversight as no citations were issued on Saturday — an event that took place in front of roughly 2,000 spectators.
During his weekly press conference on Monday, Gov. Cooper said his office will likely have to act against the track and county.
“People shouldn’t run a money-making operation that puts in danger, not only their customers, but anyone who would come into contact with their customers,” Cooper said. “This is a reckless decision being made by the owners, pulling people together in that way, that can cause spread of the virus. Alamance is one of the counties that is having higher numbers than it should and we’re looking forward to taking action against it in the coming week.
“It’s concerning that Alamance County officials have not been able to stop this. We had hoped that they would. If they can’t, the state will have to take action, which we will this week if the local officials do not.”
Jason Turner was asked for a response on Monday afternoon but has not issued one as of press time.
Sheriff Johnson issued a lengthy statement on Monday stating the reasons he would not issue a citation from Saturday’s event. Regional dirt tracks Fayetteville, 311, Tri-County, Carolina and Elizabeth City have all opened its grandstands for races over the past several weeks, forming the basis for Johnson’s argument.
After many sleepless nights and consultation with my staff, I have decided today to advise the citizens of Alamance County and the Media that, I will not be issuing a citation to the owner of the ACE Speedway in Alamance County for having more than 25 people in the race stands this past Saturday June 6, 2020.
I have found through research and contacts with other Sheriffs in the state, that numerous speedways and Go Cart Tracks ran this weekend in North Carolina with no action being taken on those owners or even warnings given. This concerns me greatly to know that my citizens have basically been singled out for the same alleged violations that are occurring all over the State of North Carolina.
While I am having to make a tough decision on what to do, I want to make it clear to all citizens that this is in no way politically motivated on my part. I assure you that I respect the Office of the Governor of North Carolina but I have serious reservations on the legality of his order.
It is within the Governor’s Right to request the court to issue an injunction against ACE Speedway or any other similar event that is currently being operated in the State of North Carolina. It is also within the Governor’s authority to dispatch State Law Enforcement Agencies under his control to issue a citation to ACE Speedway or any other similar event operating in the state.
I have always been taught during my 49 year law enforcement career that if a citation is issued, it is for a clear cut and substantial violation.
I have always tried to treat all persons with respect and dignity. Everyone should be treated equally. My understanding of the law and the conflicting orders issued by the Governor, leads me to question my authority on writing a citation to Mr. Robert Turner, owner of ACE Speedway.
– Terry S. Johnson, Sheriff
The race also included a pre-race speech from Lt. Governor challenger Mark Robinson (R) who offered a stern rebuke of Cooper’s policy.
“Today is about celebrating the freedom of North Carolinians,” Robinson said. “It’s about not being afraid to stand up to the tyrant of a governor and saying Mr. Cooper, we will not abide, we will fight back against your tyranny and in November we will vote you out of office and stick you into quarantine exactly where you belong and where you need to go.”
"Today is about celebrating the freedom of North Carolinians, and not being afraid to stand up against the tyrant we have for a governor."
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) June 7, 2020
In the middle of the conflict was the CARS Tour itself, a regional touring division based out of Mooresville, North Carolina.
Most CARS Tour events are track rentals with the series assuming the risks and responsibilities of doing so. In this case, the Race at Ace 125 was an event purchased by the Turners with Ace Speedway paying a sanctioning fee to bring the CARS Tour and its 28 Late Model Stocks to town alongside the track’s weekly divisions.
CARS Tour operator Jack McNelly said he had no hesitation in bringing his series to Alamance County.
“Ace Speedway bought this show,” McNelly said. “We are just hired entertainers. If there’s a problem with the government or law enforcement, it’s going to be their deal. We would just go home if it came down to it.
“But they hired us to come here and put on a show and that’s what we did.”
CARS Tour will next race on Saturday night at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina, a venue rented out by the series. Hickory Motor Speedway has been hosting weekly racing over the past month without fans in attendance but airing on Speed51.com Pay-Per-Views.
McNelly is hopeful a decision might come to allow fans to attend before the weekend but the Super Late Model – Late Model Stock doubleheader will take place either way, also on its own CARSTour.TV subscription platform.
“Right now, we don’t know if fans or no fans,” McNelly said. “I’ve made the commitment to my competitors that we will race. We’re very very fortunate to have good, loyal sponsors. If we get a good car count, which I expect we will, because everyone likes to go to Hickory then we’ll be okay. Our we going to make a lot of money? No.
“The other thing is, because of the schedule and the way it is, we won’t have to deal with North Carolina until July 11 at Carteret since we’re going to Jennerstown on July 4. So hopefully they can get it all sorted out by July 11.”