The owners of Ace Speedway have become celebrities of sorts in North Carolina over the past couple of weeks by continuing to defy Gov. Roy Cooper (D) over the outdoor gathering limit outlined in Phase 2 of North Carolina’s “reopening” plan.
Under Phase 2, outdoor gatherings are limited to no more than 25 people. There are First Amendment exceptions to that, which protests like the ones we’ve seen happen across the state over the last week in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd would fall under.
After the first two races were held at the Elon, NC speedway in late May, attorneys for the governor’s office sent a strongly worded letter to the Alamance County sheriff’s department demanding that they enforce Cooper’s executive order limiting outdoor gatherings. Cooper himself called the holding of the races “dangerous and reckless“, words that are familiar to Reopen protesters who were subjected to ridicule, scolding, and arrest for exercising their First Amendment rights in mid April/early May.
Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson initially told the media this past Friday that if the Ace Speedway held the race they had scheduled for June 6th, he would cite them per the letter from Cooper’s office for violating the outdoor gathering limit.
But Johnson didn’t, and the likely reason why is because the speedway declared it part of a peaceful protest:
This sign is outside of Ace Speedway tonight.
Governor Roy Cooper urged Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson to enforce his executive order in phase 2, which said no more than 25 people can gather.
— Amanda Ferguson (@_amandaferguson) June 6, 2020
At least 2,000 were in attendance, which is a far cry from the number of protesters who packed into the streets last week for the George Floyd marches. Some single-day crowd estimates for the Charlotte protests had the numbers between 10,000 and 15,000.
Before the race, temperature checks were done and contact tracing procedures were in effect, which you also did not see at last week’s protests:
Fans are beginning to take their seats for the racing at Ace Speedway tonight. Everyone entering is being temperature tested and having their photo ID documented to have a method of contact tracing. pic.twitter.com/F2NSdwdlgL
— Chris Weaver (@chris8video) June 6, 2020
Governor Cooper, as you might imagine, was not amused at the way the speedway called his bluff on outdoor gathering limits, and vowed during today’s Wuhan virus press briefing to “take action” against the Speedway:
NC Gov. Roy Cooper was asked about Ace Speedway hosting the CARS Tour under the guise of a peaceful protest:
"People shouldn't run a money making operation that puts in danger, not only their customers, but anyone who would come into contact with their customers…"
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) June 8, 2020
"It's concerning that Alamance County officials have not been able to stop this. We had hoped that they would. If they can't, the state will have to take action, which we will this week if the local officials do not."
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) June 8, 2020
Others were quick to call out Cooper’s very mixed messages when it comes to social distancing and large gatherings:
#NCGov Cooper again scolds racetrack owners for holding another race & says he "looks forward to taking some action" this week if local officials don't.
Still no scolding of the mass gatherings of last week.#NCpol
— Pete Kaliner (@PeteKaliner) June 8, 2020
Having a hard time squaring Alamance Co holding a race is a "reckless decision" while governor taking off his mask and joining protestors marching shoulder to shoulder through downtown Raleigh is okay. Also, having a drink at the bar at a restaurant is okay but not ok in a bar.
— Becki Gray (@beckigray) June 8, 2020
The Governor has yet to say what “action” he plans on taking, nor has he stated why he appears to be less concerned about a possible outbreak stemming from the George Floyd protests than he is about one from a much smaller outdoor gathering of NC residents. State health officials last week stated they were prepared for a potential outbreak that might come from the Floyd marches, but did not make similar declarations today in response to questions about the Ace Speedway gatherings.