Hundreds expected at South Dakota auto races despite virus

Published 3:50 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2020



SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A pair of South Dakota speedways are forging ahead with plans to hold two auto races expected to draw hundreds of fans this weekend, even as the state’s governor warns against attending them.

Gov. Kristi Noem said she won’t be taking any action to shut down the events planned for Saturday and Sunday nights even though she thinks they are a bad idea and could lead to the spread of the coronavirus.

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The two race tracks, just over the border from Iowa, decided to sell limited tickets to give race fans a taste of “normalcy” after weeks of social distancing and canceled sporting events.

South Dakota’s Republican governor said the crowds at the races would violate her guidance not to gather in groups of more than 10, but she has not said why she won’t stop the races from proceeding.

Health experts have said eliminating group gatherings are crucial to curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which can be transmitted by people who do not exhibit symptoms.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

As Noem touts her constraint in allowing businesses to operate during a global pandemic, the races push the limits of her hands-off approach.

Promoters of the races said they are taking steps to reduce the chances that the event will become a hotbed of virus transmission, including keeping the crowds well below capacity, screening people’s temperatures, and making concessions cashless.

The Saturday race has sold out of 700 tickets, while the Sunday event is offering 500 tickets. Organizers said they would offer refunds to anyone with second thoughts about going.

Dennis Moore, who is organizing the Sunday race at the New Raceway Park in Jefferson, said his message is clear: If you are concerned about coronavirus infections, don’t come. But he feels the economy needs to reopen.

“This country’s going to be on its butt if we don’t open this up,” he said.

Worldwide, the coronavirus outbreak has infected millions and killed about 180,000, including more than 45,000 in the U.S., according to a tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University from official government figures.

South Dakota has reported 1,858 confirmed cases and nine deaths, though the number of infections is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

The county where the racetracks are located has confirmed seven cases.

Jerry Miller, the state’s attorney for the county, said holding the races was “risky and irresponsible.” He said the county has tried to stop them from going forward, but authorization would have to come from the state government.

Moore said people from as far away as Texas are planning to fly in to attend Sunday’s race. Race crews have also lined up to join, with many on a waiting list, he said.

The South Dakota races aren’t the only ones planned for this weekend. In Texas and Florida, plans are underway to host NASCAR races, but without fans at the tracks.