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North Carolina Governor calls racetrack’s actions a ‘reckless decision’

Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte, and AJ Allmendinger discuss poignant moments from Atlanta as NASCAR addresses racial injustice, unpack Kevin Harvick's dominant win, and detail why many drivers were exhausted after the race.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called it a “reckless decision” for a racetrack to hold what was described as a “unity race” last weekend as a way to avoid restrictions on mass gatherings. Gov. Cooper vowed that the state would take action this week if the county did not.

Ace Speedway, a 4/10-mile track located about two hours northeast of Charlotte Motor Speedway, has had crowds in recent weekends that exceeded the state’s mandate on social gatherings.

North Carolina is in Phase 2 of its re-opening. Gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Photos and video have shown many more than that at recent races at Ace Speedway. Last Saturday, the track placed a sign at its entrance that read: “This Event is held in PEACEFUL Protest of Injustice & Inequality Everywhere - Ace Speedway.”

Gov. Cooper was asked Monday during a media briefing if there are loopholes that allow protests to exceed gathering limits for events such as the racetrack’s this past weekend.

“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,” Gov. Cooper said. “This is a reckless decision being made by the owners, pulling people together in that way that can cause the spread of the (coronavirus) virus.

“Alamance County (home of the track) is one of the counties that is having higher numbers than it should have. We look forward to taking some action on this in the coming week.

“It’s concerning that Alamance officials have not been able to stop this. We would hope that they could. But if they can’t, then the state will have to take action, which we will do this week if the local officials don’t.”

NBC Sports reached out to track officials Monday. They had no comment.

Track owner Robert Turner has been outspoken about having fans at his races. In a May 21 story, Turner told the Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina, that “I’m going to race and I’m going to have people in the stands.”

“And unless they can barricade the road, I’m going to do it. The racing community wants to race. They’re sick and tired of the politics. People are not scared of something that ain’t killing nobody. It may kill .03 percent, but we deal with more than that every day, and I’m not buying it no more.

“I’ve got a business to run and a job to do, and when I can’t run my business and I can’t go to my job and make a full paycheck, I’m in jail already. So getting behind bars does not scare me. I’m going to speak my piece, and we’re going to do something.”

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson told the Winston-Salem Journal in a June 5 story that the track planned to host this past weekend what he described as a “unity race.” The event, Johnson told the newspaper, was geared toward rallying the community after George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in police custody. Floyd died after a since-fired Minneapolis police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Johnson argued the race at Ace Speedway was no different than Gov. Cooper marching with a crowd of protesters on June 1 with his mask down, exposing his face.

The Journal and other media outlets reported that the General Cousel for Gov. Cooper addressed a four-page letter June 5 to Alamance County officials, including Sheriff Johnson that stated: “The recent races conducted by ACE Speedway, however, constitute commercial events, rather than gatherings filling under the auspices of the First Amendment, and therefore do not fall within that exemption. The Governor has broad authority to restrict commercial operations to address emergencies, like the public health emergency posed by COVID-19.”

Sheriff Johnson announced Monday that he would not issue the track a citation for all the fans it hosted last weekend, stating: “I have found through research and contacts with other Sheriffs in the state, that numerous speedways and Go (Kart) Tracks ran this weekend in North Carolina with no action being taken on those owners or even warnings given. 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. ... I have always tried to treat all persons with respect and dignity. Everyone should be treated equally. My understanding of the law and the conflicting orders issued by the Governor, leads me to question my authority on writing a citation to Mr. Robert Turner, owner of ACE Speedway.”

Click here for full statement from Alamance County Sheriff Johnson
North Carolina has seen an increase in coronavirus cases. Gov. Cooper said Monday

Gov. Cooper reported Monday that there have been 36,484 confirmed cases, 938 new cases reported Monday, 739 people in the hospital and 1,006 people have died.

“Today marks our highest day of people hospitalized from COVID-19 since the pandemic began,” Gov. Cooper said. “Over the weekend, we saw our single highest day of new cases reported. We’re seeing more viral spread and these numbers are concerning.”

Alamance County has accounted for 494 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Monday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The county has had 23 deaths related to COIVD-19, according to the state.

The county is averaging 30 coronavirus cases per 10,000 residents. Thirty-six of the state’s 100 counties have a higher case rate per 10,000 residents than Alamance County. Most counties surrounding Alamance County have a higher case rate per 10,000 residents than it did as of Monday, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.