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Few masks, little distancing: Amid pandemic, crowds rally at Lincoln Speedway

Rob Rose
York Dispatch
A drone shot of Lincoln Speedway shows the fans in the stands and on the track during a sprint car event on May 25.

It appeared to be mostly business as usual Saturday night at the Lincoln Speedway in Adams County, even as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to sicken and kill people, including one of the track's longtime vendors.

And state and local officials have no intention of enforcing the apparent violations of Gov. Tom Wolf's orders mandating mask-wearing and limiting crowd size at outdoor events. 

Hundreds of die-hard fans filled the stands — few wearing masks — and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in lines for concessions and bathrooms. Many gathered for photos and autographs around their favorite drivers. One of Saturday's competitors had recently tested positive for the virus. 

HOUSEHOLDER: Barry Skelly leaves lasting legacy in regional racing community

After the qualifying times were posted for the feature race, the PA announcer issued a tribute to Barry Skelly, a longtime vendor and photographer at Lincoln who died Aug. 11. The announcement noted how much the racing community missed Skelly and that he would have turned 80 on Monday — but it did not mention that he had succumbed to COVID-19.

More:In statement, Pennsylvania agency says Lincoln Speedway should not race on Monday night

Lincoln Speedway reopened in May in violation of the governor's emergency orders aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, and it continues to draw large crowds on weekends.

Masks are required when in public, and outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people are prohibited under the orders — but the governor has shown little interest in cracking down on businesses that disregard his mandates. When reached for comment, administration officials referred questions to Pennsylvania State Police.

Ryan Tarkowski, Pennsylvania State Police communications director, said Lincoln Speedway's operators have received warnings but no citations have been issued. He added that the citations would be similar to a ticket and would not lead to a closure of the track.

Tarkowski said the state police try to educate business owners about their responsibility to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 instead of enforcing each violation of Wolf's orders.

“We’re not going to solve COVID-19 by issuing a bunch of citations,” Tarkowski said. “It’s really (about) trying to achieve that voluntary compliance.”

Lincoln Speedway promoter and co-owner Jerry Parrish said the track continues to recommend that spectators wear masks, practice social distancing and use the hand sanitizer stations provided. Parrish declined to discuss how many fans were allowed to attend the events.

Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett would ultimately have the final say in deciding whether Lincoln faced any penalties, Tarkowski said.

Originally, when the track reopened in May, flouting Wolf's orders, Sinnett said the track could face enforcement. In June, Sinnett said charges were not warranted.

Nothing changed even after Skelly's death.

"I have once again been in communication with the Pennsylvania State Police about this issue and have again determined that criminal enforcement of the Governor’s Order is not warranted," Sinnett wrote Monday in an email. 

But it's not only the fans that could be a cause for concern. Drivers have continued racing throughout the country, including in some of the most highly infected states.

On Aug. 15, Knoxville Raceway in Iowa hosted a World of Outlaws event in which multiple individuals involved tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the track canceled the remainder of its season.

Eight of the sprint car drivers in the field at Lincoln's event on Saturday had participated in the event in Iowa two weeks earlier. One driver, Paul McMahan, posted on Twitter that he and his wife tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 20 after the Iowa race.

Parrish said on Tuesday he was not aware that McMahan had tested positive and that Ollie's Bargain Outlet All-Star Circuit of Champions (ASOC) was responsible for determining which drivers took part in the race. Parrish contacted ASOC race director Eric Walls, who said the organization followed a CDC guideline that a person without symptoms for 48 hours does not require a test to confirm they no longer have the virus.

The CDC website page last updated on Aug. 16 states that individuals who have tested positive but don't have symptoms can be around others 10 days after their positive test. McMahan was tested on Aug. 18 and shared on Twitter that he never displayed symptoms prior to the race 11 days later at Lincoln.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends that individuals quarantine for 14 days after having contact with an individual who tested positive. Many of the drivers involved in the Iowa event continued to travel to different states and race before they participated in Saturday's race. 

McMahan, a Tennessee native, also should have been subject to a 14-day quarantine period since he traveled to Pennsylvania from one of the 19 states for which the state Department of Health recommends a two-week quarantine upon arrival. McMahan could not be reached for comment. 

At Saturday's event, vendors selling memorabilia and other concessions and track personnel were not wearing masks. Fans were able to purchase tickets and interact with drivers that two weeks earlier had competed against drivers who tested positive for COVID-19.

For now at least, despite the continual climb of coronavirus cases in York County, racing fans can continue to head out to their favorite local track without fear that the speedway will face any fines.

Gates open at 5 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln with $5,000 on the line for the winner and fireworks following the event.

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.