One way or the other, a showdown is coming to Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, North Carolina.
The first CARS Tour Late Model Stock race since the coronavirus pandemic began was scheduled for Friday night but postponed to Saturday due to an increased threat of thunderstorms.
When the gates open on Saturday, it will do so under a different kind of threat.
Ace Speedway has already conducted two events without the approval from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s office. The current reopening plan for the state bans mass gatherings of over 25 people, meaning any race event would have to be limited to 25 fans in the grandstands. Cooper has called the past two events “dangerous and reckless.”
That order from Gov. Cooper has not been enforced by Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson, who has previously cited the order as unconstitutional. The track had opened itself to an average of 2,000 fans over the past two weeks, a scant few of them wearing masks, while crammed into the grandstands.
Clyde Albright, county attorney, said last month that the right to peaceful assemble is protected under the First Amendment, and the language under the governor’s executive order can only make a recommendation but not forbid such gatherings.
“The Governor recognizes that he may only urge people engaged in exercising First Amendment rights to practice social distancing and other disease control measures,” Albright said in a statement. “He cannot Constitutionally limit the number of people who can peaceably assemble under the First Amendment.”
Johnson likened attending the race to a form of peaceful protest.
“They were going to have signs,” Johnson said in the Winston Salem Journal. “From my understanding, they were going to have the pace car go around asking for unity of our nation for what is going on. You know, the fires, the tax on law enforcement, burning of buildings and stuff. And, by doing that, to me, that gives them the First Amendment right to protest peacefully.”
Much has changed in the past two weeks with Sheriff Johnson now saying that he will enforce the order against the Speedway on Saturday night, meaning a limit of 25 spectators.
On Friday, the office of the governor sent a four page letter — penned by General Counsel William McKinney — that expressed concern over the track failing to follow the reopening guidelines. The letter ended with the following message:
“Sheriff Johnson is formally requested to do his duty under the law and enforce the Phase 2 Order. If Sheriff Johnson declines to perform that duty, the Governor will take further action to protect the health and safety of the people of Alamance County and North Carolina.”
READ: Four Page Letter from Gov. Cooper –> 5eda7dd4199d4.pdf
Johnson says he now plans to enforce the order according to a Friday report in the Winston Salem Journal. The office does not currently know what the fine will be, but has specified that no citations will be given to fans.
“After getting the letter from the governor’s office, I met with the county manager, county attorney, county commissioner,” Johnson said Friday. “We talked, and they told me to go on — I even met with the district attorney. We are prepared to issue a citation, as the governor ordered me to do.
“I don’t agree with it, under the circumstances under the orders that have come out and what exists at this time. But I intend to follow the order.”
That letter says that failure to comply with the order could also result in a Class 2 misdemeanor. Johnson said that would be issued to track operator Robert Turner.
Johnson says the letter was delivered to him on Thursday night and resulted in a Friday morning meeting with Sheriff’s office staff, including Albright.
Unlike the first two events of the season at Ace, this is a CARS Tour event, a regional tour based out of the Charlotte area. Unlike many CARS Tour events, however, this is not a track rental with the track instead purchasing a CARS Tour date. There are 30 Late Model Stocks entered on the entry list. It’s the second race of the season following the opener in March at Southern National Motorsports Park in Lucama, North Carolina.
CARS Tour has a coronavirus prevention strategy that includes mandated masks in Victory Lane and encouraged masks throughout the garage area while in close proximity to other people.
Other regulations include:
- On Saturday, all personnel will have their temperature screened before entering the race track.
- Driver Intros will not be held amongst the crowd, per usual; instead, drivers will be introduced from their cars on the grid.
- Trailers will be spread out across the infield to maintain proper social distancing.
- Spotters will be required to wear masks during the race.
- Masks will be strongly recommended for those who are in the infield and required for all Victory Lane celebrations.