Genesee Speedway’s owner said the state Department of Health came to his house about two weeks ago to serve a cease-and-desist regarding fans in the grandstand.
The Genesee Speedway grandstand capacity is 1,500, said owner Jim Johnson, but with social distancing, you’re looking at about 450 people, or 30 percent of capacity. Aside from the 371 people in the stands July 9, it had 430 in the stands for racing on July 4. People in the grandstand and in line for food were required to wear masks, he said.
“We mandated masks. They (fans) sat with their families and if they weren’t in that group, they sat 6 feet apart. They came right through the front gate wearing masks. We didn’t allow them in unless they were wearing masks,” Johnson said.
He said the New York State Department of Health came to his house July 13 to serve the cease-and-desist.
With no fans coming in, Johnson said the speedway had to charge drivers more to come in through the pit gate at the facility. He said the speedway has stopped running any events for now.
“It’s just not fair to the racers to keep asking them to pay their own wages to get in, ‘“They’re making the same they always made to race, but (we) have to charge more.
Johnson noted Cuomo said from Day 1 that every decision he’s made is data-driven. If Cuomo had been following the data as he said he was, Johnson said, the outdoor racetracks would all be open.
“There is no data that substantiates closing an outdoor venue at this point,” Johnson said.
On Friday, Cuomo announced that the multi-agency task force to combat violations of coronavirus-related regulations at bars and restaurants conducted nearly 1,100 compliance checks between Tuesday and Thursday. Businesses found in violation of COVID-19 regulations face fines up to $10,000 per violation, while egregious violations can result in the immediate suspension of a bar or restaurant’s liquor license.
Since the start of the pandemic emergency, Cuomo said, the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) has brought 443 charges against licensees statewide and imposed 33 emergency orders of suspension, immediately closing establishments, to protect public health and safety.
According to an SLA “Order of summary suspension of license” document dated July 9, during proceedings that day, the SLA chairman was presented a request from the Office of Counsel. The information noted Genesee Valley Speedway is part of Phase 4 of the reopening plan. Executive Order 202.45 limits regions in Phase 4 to gatherings of 50 or fewer individuals. It said that on July 4, Genesee Speedway held auto races and a fireworks display there, that the event was open to spectators and that it was in violation of the executive orders Cuomo issued.
According to the proceedings, the speedway scheduled races July 9 that were being advertised as open to spectators. The SLA told the Speedway having the July 9 event would violate executive orders.
According to the SLA, the speedway said it would hold the event, with spectators present, even though such conduct would risk a loss of its alcoholic beverage license.
“This creates a serious and continuing risk to the health, safety and welfare of the public, the SLA said, according to the summary suspension document. The SLA said emergency action against the danger caused by the speedway’s conduct was imperative and that suspending the on-premises liquor license issued for the racetrack is “the most practical and viable means of protecting the public health, safety, and welfare” that the liquor authority has.
The speedway’s interest in having the liquor license is far outweighed by the immediate danger to public health, safety, and welfare, the SLA said.
Based on that, the SLA suspended Genesee Speedway’s liquor license until the suspension is lifted or until a final order from a disciplinary proceeding becomes effective. The speedway was also to surrender the license to the SLA when the suspension started. If the speedway doesn’t comply with the order, the liquor license would be cancelled or revoked in accordance with ABC law, according to the proceedings.
“We had a Thursday night show the 9th of July. That would have been the second grandstand show with fans attending,” Johnson said. “About 5 o’clock (on July 9, they called my cell phone and said if I let in any fans that were already standing in line, they were going to take my liquor license. “They basically were trying to force us to not allowing fans in and using the liquor license against us to take the license if we allowed fans in,” Johnson said. The speedway wasn’t doing anything illegal, he said. “I flat-out told them that the liquor license doesn’t do me any good if I don’t have any fans to serve alcohol to.
The most recent races the speedway held were last Saturday. It only used essential employees, he said.
“We operated with the flagmen and all the normal people it takes to put on a show. We just operated without a grandstand.” he said. The only income was from drivers and crew coming in the pit gate and any of their family members who came in with them.
“They can have eight people (attend the race) per car. They pay to come in the pit gate the same way the fans would come in the front,” Johnson said. “There’s six classes of cars that race on a Saturday night.”