Races in front of large crowds at ACE Speedway violates executive order

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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper has made it clear that racing at ACE Speedway, in front of large crowds, is a direct violation of his executive order.

A letter was sent to Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, commissioners and speedway owner Robert Turner after claims of confusions over policies.

The speedway took to Facebook to make the announcement about the rescheduling of Friday’s race, citing weather concerns as the reason for cancellation.

FOX8 asked Turner whether the cancellation had anything to do with Cooper’s letter specifically outlining restrictions at the Speedway.

“No comment,” he said.

This comes after images of the May 23 races gained national attention.

The videos and images showed packed stands, little to no social distancing and only some people wearing masks.

“The governor’s order urged social distancing, but did not mandate social distancing,” Johnson said.

Johnson recited an area of Cooper’s original order saying, the part that indicated “other” is what confused both he and Turner.

“Funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies and ‘other’ — that’s the problem to me, other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights are exempt,” Johnson said.

Once Cooper caught wind of the roughly 2,500-person crowd at the May 23 ACE Speedway event, he called it “dangerous and reckless.”

Johnson said he got a letter from the governor’s office late Thursday, clearly pointing out it’s the sheriff’s responsibility to enforce the order to limit crowds to 25 people.

“That puts me in a position as sheriff of Alamance County to be standing out and look like I’m picking on the racetrack when in fact, I think a lot of this is political all the way around,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he will now follow through on handing out citations.

“I don’t have a problem, once he clarified the order, handing the racetrack owner a citation, but I assure you, it’s going to end up in court,” he said.

For now, the citation for running a race at ACE Speedway with more than 25 people in attendance, is simply that. It does not mean the races will be halted.

“It’s a schedule II misdemeanor and probably would be a fine of some kind, if he was convicted,” Johnson said.

FOX8 reached out to the Alamance County Health Department and officials said there have been 190 new coronavirus cases between the May 23 race and June 5.

It’s uncertain whether any of the cases are directly linked to the speedway, but 85 percent of them are in the community, or considered general population, not at a long-term care facility.

While Johnson said he’s always concerned about the well-being of people in his county, he said, “The people that go to that racetrack choose to go there — nobody makes them. So, if they wind up getting in contact with somebody (with coronavirus), then I certainly feel bad for them.”

Turner’s lawyer, Chuck Kitchens, told FOX8 a “Unity Rally and Race” will be held Saturday at 5 p.m. Mark Robinson, who is running for lieutenant governor, is expected to be there.

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