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Racetracks Opening Despite Pandemic; Governor Encourages Fans To Stay Home

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An advertisement for Park Jefferson International Speedway's races.
Park Jefferson Intn'l Speedway

Two South Dakota racetracks plan to open their doors to hundreds of fans this weekend, despite fears of spreading the coronavirus.

Local officials who want to stop the races say they can’t. Governor Kristi Noem says she won’t.

One of the tracks is The New Raceway Park, a dirt track a few miles from North Sioux City. Dennis Moore is a race promoter there.

He’s hosting car races on Sunday, and he plans to let 500 people in to watch.

“We were told that we could do it by the Sheriff’s Department, we went through them,” Moore said. “And they’re saying it’s OK and now we’ve got some individuals in town that are doing some complaining about it, and I don’t know why it affects them. If they don’t want to come they wouldn’t have to.”

As an outdoor venue, it’s unclear if state restrictions that limit the number of people inside a business could restrict the racetracks.

Moore said he’s taking precautions at the weekend event. His park will make fans wear face masks and have their temperatures checked.

Moore’s isn’t the only track having races this weekend. Seven hundred fans are expected down the road at Park Jefferson International Speedway.

Both tracks are limiting the number of tickets sold to allow for social distancing inside the venue.

No one from Park Jefferson responded to messages for this story. But the track’s website says it will follow government coronavirus guidelines.

That’s of little comfort to Mayor Randy Fredericksen in North Sioux City. He fears the races could undermine the city’s efforts to fight COVID-19. But he’s powerless to stop the races, he said, because the tracks are several miles outside city limits.

“My phone’s rang off the hook over this,” Fredericksen said. “But I really don’t have any say in it.”

Union County officials say they also lack the power to stop the races. County Commissioner Rich Headid blames the Legislature. He said a bill that lawmakers rejected last month would’ve given county commissions extra powers in a public health crisis.

"So we’re in a jam right now. If that would’ve gotten passed, we could’ve acted on this,” Headid said. “But unfortunately we’ve got to follow the laws. We can’t make the laws as we go.”

Headid and Fredericksen both said they’re looking to the governor’s office for help. But Gov. Kristi Noem said Tuesday she won’t step in, regardless of the power she may have.

During a news conference, Noem said repeatedly she’s encouraging race fans to stay home. But she won’t go any further.

“I’m going to continue to recommend that people not go,” Noem said. “That will be the course of action that I’ll be taking.”

The New Raceway Park is selling tickets. Park Jefferson Speedway says on Facebook that its event is already sold out.

- Seth Tupper is SDPB’s business and economic development reporter.