North Carolina is currently in Phase 2 of Gov. Roy Cooper's reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which allows no more than 25 people to gather in one place. Ace Speedway, however, has held three races with thousands of spectators. Track owner Robert Turner did so while labeling one of the races as a "peaceful protest of injustice and inequality everywhere."
Ace Speedway dubbed the event a peaceful protest after Cooper's office sent a letter to Sheriff Terry Johnson and told him to "do his duty" and enforce the Phase 2 order. Johnson said that his deputies would go to Ace Speedway and issue citations to attendees. He just does not agree with the decision. He believes that the order lacks clarity.
The racetrack in my hometown in NC appears to have figured out the loophole where they can say cheering for drivers is a First Amendment right https://t.co/PxlOhL1GDC— Natalie Allison (@natalie_allison) June 7, 2020
"This is totally politically motivated," Johnson said to The News & Observer, "and I don't like that one doggone bit." Under the Phase 2 orders, residents of North Carolina can gather for worship, religious, and spiritual gatherings, funeral ceremonies, wedding ceremonies and "other activities constituting the exercise of First Amendment rights." Johnson said that the order reads in a way that would let the attendees gather at the race track.
Additionally, Johnson pointed out Cooper's actions as an example of a lack of clarity. Cooper joined a group of protesters in Raleigh following George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis. The governor marched with thousands of residents and did not wear a mask.
"Ace Speedway has continuously and flagrantly violated the plain and unambiguous language of the Phase Two order," Cooper's office said in a letter to Alamance County officials. "Those violations pose a serious risk to the health and people of Alamance County and throughout the state." Cooper also referred to the races as "reckless and dangerous" during a press conference in late May.
When Turner held the season-opening race on May 23, there were an estimated 4,000 attendees on hand for the event. However, he told reporters that his office monitored ticket sales to ensure that the 5,000-seat venue only reached 50-percent capacity per Cooper's order. The raceway also had sanitation stations and took photos of IDs of those in attendance to conduct contract tracing if a coronavirus outbreak happened to take place.