No ruling in Ace Speedway reopening, order to remain in place

ALTAMAHAW, N.C. (WTVD) -- Attorneys for Ace Speedway and the state's Department of Health and Human Services finished their arguments Friday afternoon over an order to shut down the racetrack.

Last week, state officials ordered Ace Speedway to close after it violated crowd-restrictions place in Phase 2 of the state's re-opening plan on Saturday June 6, when more than 1,000 fans attended a race.

"Alamance County continues to be one of the counties in the state with the fastest-growing rate of COVID-19 diagnosis. It has been highlighted by the White House Coronavirus Task Force as one of the country's most troubling hot spots," said Andrew Kasper, an attorney for NCDHHS.

North Carolina continues to grapple with an increase in both new cases and hospitalizations, as well as a decrease in available beds, a troubling trend that has worried state health officials.

"You've got people in close physical proximity, that are cheering and yelling for an extended period of time, and that is leading to a risk of spreading COVID-19," Kasper said.

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Friday's hearing was not whether track officials violated the restrictions in place - they admitted they did - but if those restrictions were legal.

Alamance County Health Director Stacie Turpin Saunders said one person who attended a race on May 30 did test positive for COVID-19. The spectator was from Cabarrus County.

Earlier this week, Short Track Scene reported one pit crew member who took part in a race earlier this month has also tested positive for COVID-19.

"We did not issue the citation because we felt it was unconstitutional to do so," said Jackie Fortner, a Major with the Alamance County Sheriff's Office.
Fortner said he found pictures on social media of other race tracks in North Carolina that exceeded crowd-size limits, but were not targeted by the state. Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said the same in a statement last week, noting he felt Ace Speedway had been singled out. In response to Sheriff Johnson's statement, Cooper said he was unaware of any other tracks in operation.

During testimony, the track's operators discussed the economic challenges they faced in attempting to stay open with such crowd restrictions in place.

"I mean we can't operate. We cannot maintain the facility or pay our bills without the revenue the racing brings," said Robert Turner, a part-owner of Ace Speedway.

Track operators said prior to COVID-19, they had plans to set up online streaming beginning in 2021, but noted subscription fees would likely not cover expenses to run races.

Jason Turner, Robert's son, testified their break-even point is around 1,000 fans and they did take precautions to try and keep guests safe. He did acknowledge they issued a refund to one family who said they could not find a place in the stands to safely socially distance.

Superior Court Judge D. Thomas Lambeth Jr., did not issue a ruling on Friday, but planned to release his decision on Wednesday, June 24. Until then, the order to keep the track closed would remain in place. Attorney Chuck Kitchen, who represents the track operators, said the track plans to follow the order.
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