Gov. Cooper closes ACE Speedway, declares facility is ‘imminent hazard’

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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the ACE Speedway in Alamance County closed immediately and called the venue an imminent hazard, the News and Observer reports.

Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said in an order issued on Monday night that the speedway could reopen for customers if it presents a plan showing it will follow state guidelines.

The plan must be approved by the NCDHHS for the speedway to reopen.

The next race is scheduled for Friday June 19.

According to the order obtained by the News and Observer, ACE Speedway has to tell the public by 5 p.m. on Tuesday that races and other upcoming events will be canceled until Monday June 22.

The NCDHHS released a statement saying they have issued an abatement order requiring ACE Speedway to close the facility.

The full statement is provided below:

“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is issuing an Abatement Order requiring ACE Speedway to immediately close their facility and halt operations. The Speedway’s recent actions constitute an imminent hazard for the spread of COVID-19, an acute threat to North Carolinians which must not continue.

This order follows a letter sent last week by Governor Roy Cooper’s office alerting ACE Speedway that their actions are in “open defiance” of Executive Order No. 141, which limits mass gatherings to protect the safety of North Carolinians. Gatherings of more than 25 people in a confined, outdoor space are strictly prohibited. The risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 is higher in settings where people gather, share facilities or have increased respiratory efforts, such as cheering. It was reported the Speedway admitted more than 2,500—and possibly as many as 4,000—spectators to attend races held at the track on May 23, May 30 and June 6. 

While the Abatement Order halts operations, it allows ACE Speedway to propose a new plan which could allow races to resume, under the condition that steps be taken to adhere to the restrictions in place regarding mass gathering numbers and social distancing precautions.  

The novel coronavirus continues to threaten North Carolina, with recent data indicating an acceleration in the number of new cases, a greater percentage of positive tests and an increase in hospitalizations resulting from COVID-19. Alamance County has had an increasing trend in number of cases since the start of the pandemic with larger increases in the numbers of cases since the last week in April. The doubling time for the outbreak in Alamance reached a maximum of 19.7 days in the last week of May, and decreased to 13.6 days in early June, indicating that viral spread is becoming more rapid.

‘Across the state, North Carolinians are making huge sacrifices to protect their families and neighbors. This virus is highly contagious and very dangerous. Bad actors who flagrantly violate public health orders put all of our families and loved ones at risk,’ said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen.

Anyone who attended a mass event should get tested. The following online resources can help.

  • Visit Check My Symptoms (www.ncdhhs.gov/symptoms) and enter your symptoms to determine if you should consider getting tested for COVID-19. If a test is recommended, you will receive a link to a list of nearby testing sites via email or text.
  • Visit Find My Testing Place (www.ncdhhs.gov/TestingPlace) and enter your county or ZIP code to access a list of nearby testing site locations online. 

All North Carolinians should continue practicing the 3 Ws to protect themselves and others when leaving home. Wear a cloth face covering if you will be with other people. Wait 6 feet apart and avoid close contact. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.

For more data and information about North Carolina’s COVID-19 key metrics, visit the North Carolina COVID-19 Dashboard at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard. For the latest information on COVID-19, visit nc.gov/covid19.”

Cooper’s executive order does not allow for crowds of more than 25 people during this time. There were more than 800 tickets sold to a race at Ace Speedway in Alamance County.

The stands were full with many people packed in and not wearing face coverings or social distancing, but our crews did see staff doing temperature checks of fans.

Ace Speedway held its first race back in May and has around 2,000 people in attendance.

When Cooper caught wind, he called the event “reckless” and “dangerous.”

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said he did not cite the owner of the racetrack during the May race because he was unclear of the governor’s wording in the executive order, which allows crowds of more than 25 people for weddings and other events exercising someone’s first amendment rights.

The owner of the racetrack called Saturday’s event a “Unity Rally with Racing.”

During the Saturday race, many fans held signs saying, “Racing for rights.”

Some folks who went say they went to protest the governor’s executive order restricting their right to assemble.

“A lot of folks don`t understand this racetrack as a small business, and with all the COVID-19 situation, a lot of small businesses have been put under a lot of great pressure, and many of them have closed. This race track has reached a point where they had to race or they were going to run out of money and were going to have to close,” Randy Pettit said.

Our crews did not see anyone from the sheriff’s office there. Only the track owner can be written a citation for violating the order. Fans can not be cited for attending.

That is classified as a class 2 misdemeanor which can carry a fine.

On Friday, Gov. Cooper’s office issued a letter urging Alamance County officials to prevent the racetrack from hosting future events that violate the Phase 2 reopening executive order meant to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson announced Monday he will not issue a citation to the owner of ACE Speedway for having more than 25 people in the race stands on Saturday.

The sheriff’s full letter can be read below:

“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.”

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