South Dakota auto races go forward without fans due to virus

JEFFERSON, S.D. (AP) — Two South Dakota speedways reversed course Thursday and said they would hold their weekend races without spectators, after Gov. Kristi Noem warned fans against attending the sold-out events because of the coronavirus.

Park Jefferson International and The New Raceway Park released statements saying the races would take place as scheduled Saturday and Sunday nights in Jefferson, near the Iowa border, but that fans wouldn’t be allowed to attend.

New Raceway Park said on Facebook that it came under “pressure” from the governor’s office, county and health officials, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fans who purchased race tickets will receive refunds, both speedways said.

Noem, a Republican, said Wednesday that she thought the events were a bad idea because they could lead to the spread of the coronavirus but that she wouldn’t force the speedways to cancel. She cautioned that the crowds would violate her guidance not to gather in groups of more than 10.

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, or death.

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

Race promoters said they had taken 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 at Park Jefferson International Speedway sold just 700 tickets, for a track that usually holds 4,000. The Sunday event at New Raceway Park in Jefferson sold out 500 tickets, less than one-third of its capacity of 1,800.

Some fans planned to travel from as far as Texas.

After discussions with the South Dakota Department of Health and other state officials and county commissioners, spectators will no longer be allowed, Park Jefferson International Speedway said on its website Thursday.

“Governor Noem and her team have been doing a great job leading our state and have asked the citizens to be smart and innovative in how they operate. While we felt we were innovative in how we were addressing fan safety by abiding by the CDC guidelines, we also know the importance of working with our officials’ guidance on fan attendance,” the statement said. “We truly appreciate the outpouring of support from all of the fans and sanctioning bodies for our event.”

Both speedways encouraged fans to watch the races from home on pay-per-view channels.

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