South Dakota Dirt Tracks Are Racing This Weekend, Social Distancing Be Damned

Without stay-at-home orders in place, hundreds of fans have already bought tickets to attend.

AP Photo/David Stephenson

A handful of states have made headlines over the past week as they plan to reopen businesses and continue public life amidst the ongoing pandemic. Some, however, never issued stay-at-home orders in the first place, like Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The latter is currently in the spotlight as two of the state's racetracks plan to hold sporting events this weekend, whereas similar public gatherings have been canceled across the U.S. over fear of spreading the sickness.

Park Jefferson Speedway in the town of Jefferson has stated its intentions to host the Open Wheel Nationals this Saturday, and it's expecting 700 people to attend. Then, a smaller race across town will take place on Sunday at Raceway Park, though organizers claim to have sold just over 300 of their available 500 tickets so far. Both facilities are cutting off attendance at around one-fifth and one-third capacity, respectively, according to Sioux Falls' local ESPN affiliate. Still, these headcounts far surpass the CDC’s suggestion to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people and may make it hard to maintain a safe distance between people. 

The small-town dirt tracks are requiring everyone who attends to wear personal protective equipment like face masks, and workers will be checking fans' temperatures as they enter the facilities.

Steve Kiraly, owner of Raceway Park, explained to KTIV, "We're also going to have hand sanitizer on board at several strategically located places here at the track along with all of the warning issues posted all over the place."

"At this time, this is the only place in the country that is not breaking any laws by trying to run a race here at this time," Kiraly continued.

All this is still possible—and legal—because South Dakota has no strict regulations when it comes to social distancing. Rather, advice from officials is viewed as unenforceable suggestions of sorts, which has sparked drama for the state's governor, Kristi Noem.

Noem is facing fierce criticism for refusing to issue a mandatory stay-at-home order, despite having almost 1,800 confirmed C-19 cases and eight related deaths in South Dakota. When asked about the races, Noem said, “I can encourage people not to go. I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to attend,” but stopped short of trying to cancel or ban the events. “I still recommend that we follow the plans that I have laid out for South Dakota where we don’t gather in sizes of over 10 and that folks continue to social distance—if they’re not feeling well to stay home and to wash their hands.”

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