North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen suggested that the least bit of effort from Ace Speedway to communicate with the state over the past month could have prevented an abatement order to close the Alamance County short track this week.
Ace Speedway has contested three consecutive race weekends in which an average of 2,000 fans attended without masks or physical distancing restrictions. The races took place in violation of the state’s second phase of reopening plans — which includes provisions that limit mass gatherings to 25 individuals.
The state ordered Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson to enforce the restrictions, but he refused on the claim it was unconstitutional. The track has most recently claimed that racing events are constitutionally protected as they are a “peaceful protest,” no different from protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, at least two other regional dirt tracks — 311 Speedway and Carolina Raceway — have conducted similar events without the pressure placed on it that Ace has received.
Sheriff Johnson said in a Monday night statement that he would not issue a citation against Ace Speedway because the order was not enforced on all motorsport venues equally.
“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,” Johnson wrote. “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. 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.”
Cooper said during his Tuesday media briefing that he was not aware of other speedways conducting similar events.
“We’re not specifically aware of any other speedways that are in operation,” Cooper said. “Maybe Dr. Cohen and her office does, but I’m not specifically aware of them. At this particular speedway, it knows the order is in existence and has flagrantly violated the order and put their customers in danger as well as anyone that comes in contact with their customers.
“Today, the department of health and human services has issued an order that I will let Dr. Cohen tell you about.”
Cohen said that the state has repeatedly reached out to Ace Speedway to work towards a comprehensive plan and each attempt has been ignored.
“Regarding Ace Speedway, if you take a step back, the state partnered with NASCAR to the point they were able to put together a very detailed protocol so they were able to run the Coca-Cola 600, a very good event, without spectators,” Cohen said. “They protected the competitors and the staff that were there. We are wanting to work with folks to figure out ways to run these activities. A lot of the short tracks have worked with us.
“Ace Speedway, despite us reaching out, they know about the order and we’ve asked them to reach out and to come into compliance, and still, they didn’t work with us. We felt like we needed to take this action because mass gatherings do spread the virus. It’s irresponsible for them to operate in the manner they have with fans from shoulder-to-shoulder, no face coverings. We want to take this action for folks to know they need to take this seriously. Particularly in a week where we’re seeing the trends go the wrong direction. I’m very concerned about that. We need to make sure that we are doing are each doing our part on both an individual and businesses basis to keep protecting each other in North Carolina.”
Hickory Motor Speedway has contested events throughout the month, albeit without fans in attendance, and for a pay-per-view audience. NASCAR racing is a completely different business model, as the tracks turn a clear profit based on television revenue even if a single fan does not attend.