Cooper — at odds with speedway, sheriff over fans at race — closes track

Ace Speedway in Alamance County has held races the past three weeks, including last Saturday’s event it deemed a protest, and the state ordered the track closed Tuesday

ALTAMAHAW — Ace Speedway found a creative way to defy Gov. Roy Cooper’s coronavirus restrictions.

The governor responded by closing the venue and declaring it an imminent hazard.

“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is issuing an Abatement Order requiring ACE Speedway to immediately close their facility and halt operations,” N.C. DHHS said in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “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.”

The ongoing saga has further divided those who are promoting social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 against others who claim hypocrisy in Cooper’s allowance of mass protests throughout the state. The racetrack in Alamance County held an event for the third straight week Saturday and called the most recent a protest, a nod to protests that have taken place around the state in the wake of George Floyd’s death and been allowed to proceed despite exceeding the 25-person limit allowed in the governor’s executive order. The track has reportedly been drawing in excess of 2,000 spectators since reopening.

A placard at the speedway on Saturday read: “This event is held in peaceful protest of injustice and inequality everywhere.” Gatherings to express First Amendment rights are exempt from the order.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson had previously refused to enforce Cooper’s order at the speedway and said Monday he won’t cite the speedway for violating the state’s prohibition against mass gatherings due to COVID-19.

Cooper said at a media briefing the same day that opening the speedway to crowds was a “reckless decision” by the owner and that the “state will have to take action” if the sheriff’s office did not. The governor did so Tuesday, closing the track while saying it could reopen if it follows the coronavirus guidelines and its plan is approved by the state. The track’s next event is scheduled for June 19.

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

The four-tenths-mile asphalt track opened in 1956 and was previously called Southern Speedway. It has a 5,000-person capacity and typically holds late model, limited sportsman, mini-stock, modified and Xtreme races.