MYRTLE BEACH — Within 15 feet of the entrance at the Myrtle Beach Speedway at Saturday’s farewell ride, a shirt hanging on a hanger read: “I beat the Chinese Virus” with a logo of the speedway in the corner.
That set the tone on a day when it was estimated that more than 3,000 people — riders, crew, staff and spectators — flocked to the 62-year-old speedway for its final race Saturday, violating Gov. Henry McMaster’s Executive Order 2020-50 on large gatherings amid COVID-19 concerns.
The speedway’s actions came a day after at least one Horry County councilman spoke with a track official about abiding by the 250-person capacity rule.
Repeated messages for Speedway GM Steve Zacharias were not returned Saturday, including one left at the merchandise counter at about 3 p.m. The messages included calls, texts and a visit to his office.
Gov. Henry McMaster's office is looking into reports about an unauthorized crowd of fans at the Speedway, a spokesman said Saturday.
Horry County has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19, ranking fourth in the state in total cases with 8,802, trailing only Charleston, Greenville and Richland counties. It is also tied for the third-most coronavirus-related deaths with 162 alongside Richland, trailing only Greenville and Charleston counties.
On Aug. 3, 2020, Gov. McMaster issued Executive Order 2020-50 dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and “gatherings.” In the order, McMaster indicated the following:
- The total number of employees, customers, patrons, suppliers, vendors, visitors, or other persons present for or in attendance at the Gathering shall not exceed 50 percent (50%) of the location’s occupancy limit as determined by the fire marshal, if applicable, or two hundred fifty (250) persons, whichever is less.
- All employees, customers, patrons, suppliers, vendors, visitors, or other persons in attendance at the Gathering shall wear a Face Covering, as defined in Section 2(D) of this Order, subject to any applicable exceptions set forth in Section 2(C)(1)–(10) of this Order, as a condition of entry or participation.
- The organizers, operators, owners, or hosts of, or other parties responsible for, a Gathering shall take reasonable steps to incorporate, implement, comply with, and adhere to any applicable sanitation, “social distancing,” and hygiene guidelines promulgated by the CDC, DHEC, or any other state or federal public health officials, as well as relevant industry guidance, to limit exposure to, and prevent the spread of, COVID-19.
The Myrtle Beach Speedway can host up to 12,000 spectators, although it would be subject to the 250-person limit, as that is less than the 50 percent venue capacity.
Those looking to host events that exceed the 250-person limit must apply for a special exception through the state’s Department of Commerce.
As of Saturday morning at 5:30 a.m., the speedway’s “NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Presents The Sun Fun 101 Race” was not on the approval list.
The penalty for violating an order from the governor issued during a state of emergency is a fine of up to $100 or a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
Other events happening in Myrtle Beach over the weekend were approved by the state, including Friday’s “All-American Games" at Grand Park within Myrtle Beach’s The Market Common community. The Department of Commerce has already approved 40 events to exceed the 250-person limit to date, with applications still open.
At the raceway on Saturday, in addition to the capacity violation, it was also observed that both spectators and raceway personnel were not wearing face coverings, nor abiding by social-distancing measures set forth by the state — seen both in the stands, as well as in common areas such as bathrooms.
The Department of Commerce did not immediately return messages looking for comment.
Horry County’s Emergency Management Department did grant a special exemption to Suck Bang Blow in mid-July, allowing the bar to host Bone Thugs n’ Harmony and an overflow crowd that well exceeded the 250-person limit.
“Horry County does not grant exemptions from the Governor’s executive orders," said Kelly Moore, Horry County spokeswoman.
Before the races began, Horry County Councilman Johnny Vaught said he spoke with track officials Friday who were wanting to make sure they were clear about the attendance rules.
“Governor’s order is for 250 total, inside and outside,” Vaught said. “That’s what they’re facing over there. They can’t just sell 250 tickets, which was the way I thought they should be able to do it. If you look at everybody in the infield, they have to be included in the count. There’s nothing we can do about that. It’s the governor’s executive order.”
Vaught has been vocal about not supporting government requiring masks to be worn, and that the choice should be made by the individual. So when it came to the 250-person limit, Vaught thought that would mean for fans in the stands and not total.
“To me that makes sense,” Vaught said. “But somehow somebody from commerce got involved in it at the governor’s office and apparently the interpretation is 250 total.”
Vaught said Saturday evening he did not want to comment about the speedway’s attendance.
Signage at the entrance of the speedway encouraged compliance with CDC regulations.
“Help stop the spread of germs” was posted on a sign next to the concession stand where two of about a dozen employees were wearing masks and gloves while serving food and handling cash. Faded tape on the ground marked off the six-foot distance between those in line as recommended by the CDC.
Masks weren’t worn by the ticket-takers nor were they worn by the majority of the thousands of attendees, who paid about $18 apiece to attend the race.
Moore said Saturday evening that the county was not aware of any complaints about the crowd.