Riverside Speedway

Riverside Speedway in Groveton opened for racing May in defiance of Gov. Chris Sununu’s order limiting the size of gatherings as a way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Riverside Speedway and Adventure Park in Groveton reopened its track to the public Saturday after reaching an agreement with the state late last week.

At a Friday morning hearing in Grafton County Superior Court, Judge Lawrence MacLeod Jr. noted that changes to Gov. Chris Sununu’s race track shutdown order taking effect Monday would make a suit brought by the speedway moot.

He suggested the parties work out a deal. A short while later, the state agreed to give the track a two-day jump on the revised restrictions.

Under the new guidelines, outdoor automobile race tracks or similar facilities — excluding the New Hampshire Motor Speedway — may open at 50% capacity.

If the track stays in compliance, “we will take no enforcement action,” said Daniel Will, the state’s solicitor general.

On June 4, the track sued Sununu, alleging that his emergency order banning gatherings of 10 or more to limit the spread of the coronavirus violated the state constitution and could put the track out of business.

On June 11, Sununu issued revised guidelines, which go into effect Monday, that permit “outdoor automobile race tracks or similar facilities (with the exclusion of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway) to open at 50% of capacity.”

Stephen Martin, the track’s attorney, said it “reserves the right to challenge” the revised guidelines. MacLeod gave the track 10 days to file an amended lawsuit.

In court documents, the track argued that “…operating without spectators will render Riverside insolvent and unable to operate permanently” and that the current guidelines “…on their face prohibit racetracks from operating altogether — with or without spectators.”

“Thus, most racers are unwilling to race until the Emergency Orders are amended to reflect that racetracks are allowed to operate in New Hampshire,” the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, if the track — as it did on May 23 — “defies the Emergency Order, there is a substantial likelihood that the Attorney General’s office will enforce the Order,” the lawsuit said.

The track, owned by Mike and Stephanie Humphrey, opened on May 23 with attendance restricted to about 500 people. The track has a capacity of about 3,045 spectators, according to court documents.

The track promoted social distancing and also provided face masks and sanitizer to fans who wanted them.

The state tried to discourage attendance, posting three digital signs on the approaches to the speedway that read: “COVID-19 race track warning/no public spectators allowed.”

Earlier on the morning of May 23, the state issued the Humphreys a written warning that opening the track would create “a public-health risk,” said Benjamin Agati, a senior assistant attorney general and the lead prosecutor on enforcement of the governor’s emergency orders.