Sheriff won’t cite N.C. speedway for crowd despite order

Photo of Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson via NC Sheriffs Assoication website

ALTAMAHAW — A North Carolina sheriff said Monday he won’t cite a local stock car speedway for violating the state’s prohibition against mass gatherings due to COVID-19 after another large crowd gathered there for races.

The decision by Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson appears to open the door for Gov. Roy Cooper to seek legal action against the owner of Ace Speedway, which has held racing each of the past three weekends. Cooper’s executive order caps most outdoor meetings to 25 people. Media outlets have reported crowds at the speedway exceeding 2,000, including the one on Saturday.

The governor’s office wrote to Johnson last week telling him to perform his duty over the weekend and enforce Cooper’s order. 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.

Johnson wrote on Monday that no action was taken on other tracks that raced over the weekend.

“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,” he wrote in a statement. “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.”

Cooper said at a media briefing earlier Monday that opening the speedway to crowds was a “reckless decision” by the owner.

“People shouldn’t run a money-making operation that puts in danger not only their customers but anybody who would come into contact with their customers,” Cooper said, adding the “state will have to take action” this week “if the local officials don’t.” He didn’t give specifics.

Johnson wrote that Cooper was within his right to ask a court to issue an injunction against the speedway or ask state police agencies to issue a citation.