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Judge rules against North Carolina track that violated state’s mass gatherings ban

North Carolina Speedway Flouts Governor's COVID-19 Orders, Allows Spectators

ALTAMAHAW, NC - MAY 30: Attendees cheer and take photos during a race at Ace Speedway on May 30, 2020 in Altamahaw, North Carolina. Crowds accumulated at the race track for the second weekend in a row, in defiance of North Carolina Governor Roy Coopers ban on large gatherings due to the coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)

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A North Carolina track that violated the state’s ban on mass gatherings cannot operate unless it meets current restrictions, a North Carolina Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.

Ace Speedway, located in Elon, North Carolina, had held races in May and June with crowds reported to exceed 2,000 fans. North Carolina has been in Phase 2 of its re-opening. Gatherings are limited to no more than 25 people outdoors.

The state of North Carolina ordered the track to be closed immediately on June 8, citing the track as an “imminent hazard for the spread of COVID-19.” The Order of Abatement states that track officials may propose a plan that will follow the state’s guidelines on mass gatherings. The order states that such a plan must be approved by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Judge Tom Lambeth granted a temporary restraining order June 11 that prevented the track from hosting races. The track canceled its races June 19 and has races scheduled Saturday night.

Wednesday, Judge Lambeth upheld the state’s order preventing the track from operating.

Judge Lambeth cited a declaration from Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, noting the number of COVID-19 cases, nothing in his ruling:

“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. 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 event and those spectators exert increased respiratory effort by yelling and cheering, the risk of spreading the virus is magnified. These considerations which are based in science and medicine form a sound and reasoned basis for the decision to restrict the number of spectators at events held at large entertainment and sporting venues like Ace Speedway.

“Based on the facts presented at the hearing and applying the law to those facts, the court hereby issues a preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendants from violating the plaintiff’s Order of Abatement.

“The court does once again encourage the parties to work together, if possible, to try and find a way of allowing the owners of the speedway to conduct races within the current restrictions.”