During a CARS Tour team meeting on Saturday afternoon at Hickory Motor Speedway, series operator Jack McNelly notified his competitors that the sanctioning body was alerted of a positive COVID-19 test in the days after Saturday night’s event at Ace Speedway.
McNelly did not confirm the identity of the individual who tested positive for the coronavirus but officials from the series told Short Track Scene that it was a crew member who was present for the Race at Ace 125 in Altamahaw, North Carolina.
Ace Speedway has generated headlines over the past month for its continued defiance of the current North Carolina state reopening mass gathering restrictions. The current regulations permit no more than 25 people in an outdoor confined space, such as a grandstand.
Ace Speedway has opened its doors to unlimited fans over the past three weekends — drawing an average of 2,000 spectators, including a comparable number last Saturday night for the Race at Ace 125. The track did so under the guise of a peaceful protest, arguing that it had the same constitutional protections.
Alamance County Sherriff Terry S. Johnson has refused to enforce the order under the conviction that it was not constitutional. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper then filed a restraining order against the speedway on Monday. That order required the track to notify the public by 5 p.m. on Tueday that it would close until further notice.
When the Speedway refused, an emergency court hearing was called for Thursday morning, in which Alamance County Superior Court judge Tom Lambeth reviewed arguments from both the state and speedway operators Robert and Jason Turner.
Andrew Kasper, a state lawyer for the state health department, told Lambeth during the hearing that close contact, along with shouting required due to the noise of racing engines, made competitors particularly susceptible to catching the virus.
North Carolina Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen announced on Wednesday that Alamance was one of eight counties that would receive additional testing and tracing assistance due to rising positive test numbers.
Ace Speedway had retained Chuck Kitchen as its defense council. Kitchen was the attorney that sued Gov. Cooper on behalf of gyms wanting to reopen during the second phase.
Kitchen argued that Ace Speedway has been advised by local officials on the safety measures needed and presented documentation of those procedures to Judge Lambeth. Kitchen argued that the state does not have the police power to shutter the speedway, only to place restrictions, while arguing that the 25-person limit made it impossible to successfully operate a business.
Kitchen argued that Charlotte Motor Speedway’s NASCAR races were also in defiance if Ace Speedway was — citing the residents in the suites overlooking the track and the participants in the garage.
It’s worth noting, of course, that NASCAR races have taken place under strict, state approved guidelines that include physical distancing requirements, masks, frequent sanitizing and grandstands closed to attending fans.
Masks were recommended on Saturday but not required. Fans were subject to non-contact temperature checks.
Judge Lambeth sided with the state, reasoning that its continued operation in defiance of state orders was an imminent hazard to health and public safety.
“Based on all of the materials I’ve reviewed and the arguments of counsel the appropriate ruling is, I am going to grant a temporary restraining order,” Judge Lambeth said on Thursday. “I’m going to restrain and adjoin Ace Speedway and any of the entities associated with it from holding any races until we can have another hearing in this matter.”
The next hearing is scheduled for June 19 at 9:30 a.m.
The typical CARS Tour event is a track rentals with the series assuming the risks and responsibilities of doing so. In the case of last weekend, 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.
In an interview before The Race at Ace 125, 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.”
The race at Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday is a track rental but there are no fans in attendance in accordance to North Carolina and Catawba County regulations. The race is available to watch via a CARSTour.TV subscription service stream.