An Alamance County judge has ruled in favor of the state, meaning Ace Speedway will remain closed.
Superior Court Judge D. Thomas Lambeth Jr., after presiding over two hearings this month, ruled this afternoon that Ace will have to abide by an abatement order given by Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, to not hold any more races under Gov. Roy Cooper’s Phase Two orders until the track can develop a plan to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
A proposal by Ace, which would require DHHS approval, must limit spectators at events to 25 people during Phase Two restrictions, which Cooper extended to July 17 because of a continued rise of cases statewide.
“Dr. Cohen’s sworn declaration makes clear that the scientific and medical data show that large mass gatherings like those at Ace Speedway have been linked to increased spread of COVID-19,” Lambeth said in a statement. “She also makes the point in her testimony that when spectators are in close proximity to one another for extended periods of time during a race or other sporting events and those spectators exert increased respiratory effort by yelling and cheering, the rest of spreading the virus is magnified.”
Robert Turner and his son, Jason, the owners and operators of Ace Speedway and their attorney, Chuck Kitchen, argued they had a legal right to make a living, especially on their own property.
After the third weekend of racing, Cooper declared the venue an “imminent hazard,” and the DHHS issued an order declaring the track an "acute threat to North Carolinians, which must not continue."
Jason Turner, reached by phone this afternoon, did not want to comment on the decision.
“I’ve got no comment,” he said. “We’re working on some things internally right now, so that’s about it.”
Turner said there’s a chance Ace Speedway would post something on its Facebook page over the next few days. That’s how Turner has been keeping fans updated throughout the last few weeks.
Lawyers for both sides say about 2,500 people attended the first race of the season at Ace Speedway on May 23, the weekend when Phase Two guidelines took effect, and around 2,000 attended the next two races.
Lambeth wrote in his statement that he has empathy for the speedway owners and other business owners in the state.
“I have studied all the evidence presented by both written testimony and oral testimony,” Lambeth said. “The court concludes that the correct legal ruling in this case is to grant the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction.”
Phase Two also will now require face masks to be worn by anyone out in the public.
DHHS today reported 1,721 new cases statewide, the second-highest daily total since the pandemic began in mid-March, and 906 hospitalizations, just nine off the single-day high established one day earlier.
Chuck Wall, a veteran driver at Ace Speedway who lives in Midway, said he wasn’t surprised with the ruling.
“I didn’t think they would be able to open back up,” said Wall, who competed all three weekends. “I think the governor is proving a point now because I know several other tracks in the state are still open. It’s just unfortunate where we are right now.”
Randy Butner, a veteran driver from Pfafftown, has raced at Ace Speedway for about 10 years. He also races at Bowman Gray Stadium, which has been closed this season.
“I’m not surprised, but I think we need a new governor,” Butner said. “It’s disappointing not only with the situation at Ace Speedway but everything that’s gone on here lately.”
One of Kitchen's arguments in the hearing was there is no COVID-19 emergency in North Carolina.
"There’s no question COVID is a bad germ, and there’s no question there’s a pandemic worldwide,” Kitchen said. “No one is going to argue what we have going on isn’t serious. But is it serious now? I would submit to the court it is no longer an emergency.”