MORRISON, Colo. (CBS4) – Jefferson County Public Health announced Sunday its intent to pursue legal action against the management of Bandimere Speedway following Saturday’s Brakes Plus Jet Car Nationals and Fourth of July fireworks event. The health department claims the speedway violated an agreement between the parties to limit attendance and promote the attendees’ adherence to county and state health guidelines established for public gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
 
Those requirements were violated, the health department stated in a press release.
 
“We want our businesses, who are pillars in our community, to be able to safely operate,” said Dr. Mark B. Johnson, MD, MPH, Executive Director of JCPH. “At the same time, we are dealing with the most significant public health crisis of our lifetime, and cases of the virus are already starting to increase again in Jeffco. We are proud that the large majority of our local businesses are working diligently to keep themselves and others safe. However, when one business does not, it compromises the health and economy of our entire community.”

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Attorneys for the JeffCo health department and the drag strip had agreed to the stipulations the day before the event after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on Thursday. That temporary restraining order, requested by the health department’s attorneys, threatened to shut down the race, even as race teams began pulling into the pits. Track management did not respond to the concerns until the temporary restraining order was granted.

While it was first reported that the guidelines included an attendance cap of 175 people, Dr. Johnson cleared up the situation Sunday afternoon. In an interview with CBS4, Johnson said the two parties agreed upon a 175-person limit per group and activity area, including each section of bleachers.

“They have a lot of space out there and it made no sense to say you could only have 175 people in this whole compound, so we were working with them to both increase their sales, which is important for business, but also keep the people who are coming in safe,” Dr. Johnson said.

Social distancing was also a requirement in the agreed upon stipulations, and according to Johnson, Bandimere management attempted to implement and enforce it. Photos from inside show every other row of bleachers was off limits and signs in common areas asked guests to social distance.

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Still, Johnson tells CBS4 his employees witnessed crowded concession and common areas, as well as portions of bleachers where social distancing wasn’t taking place.

“The problem that our staff mentioned was as time went on, people kept streaming in and they were unable to keep that kind of distancing,” said Johnson. “They were unable to keep up with what the public health order requires.”

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Copter4 flew over the event Saturday morning and found a limited number of spectators. But as racing commenced in the afternoon and the promise of evening fireworks hung in the air with spent nitro fumes, the crowd grew measurably.

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“It’s good to see people out again,” said Frank Peterson, who lives by the speedway. “I hope the whole thing gets to be where people can be out again like we used to be able to.”

“It’s pretty huge, not somewhere I’d like to be just because of all the whole coronavirus thing,” said Mark Senolos, who parked near the speedway to watch the firework show from a distance Saturday night.

According to Johnson, Bandimere management capped ticket sales at 4,500, which is almost a fifth of the more than 23,000 seat capacity. Still, health officials don’t have a final count of attendees because an undetermined amount of people were able to get free tickets and enter through a promotion with an outside business, Johnson said.

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“We did not know how many were going to be included in that and according to the management at Bandimere, they didn’t know how many would be in that so we were watching closely to see how much the total was,” said Johnson.

John Bandimere Jr., track president, said of his event on Saturday “This is not a drag race, it’s a rally for freedom.” He then took issue with state health measures, saying “I pray for Gov. (Jared) Polis that he would get some wisdom.”

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John Bandimere told CBS4 on Sunday that he did not agree with JeffCo Health’s plan for legal action, but declined to comment further until a later date.

Conor McCue