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Rogersville dragstrip owners frustrated that golf courses open while they're closed

Jeff Bobo • Apr 21, 2020 at 2:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Non-essential businesses will be reopening as Tennessee's Safer at Home order is scheduled to expire April 30, but that can’t happen soon enough for a Rogersville business that is only essential to those who have a need for speed.

Cherokee Raceway Park owners Randy and Cristy Marrisett lost a lot of revenue last spring because of flooding that postponed events at their dragstrip, located just west of Rogersville. The weather has been perfect for racing this spring, but this time they've been shut down due to statewide Safer at Home guidelines.

During a normal racing event, Cherokee Raceway Park (CRP) hosts about 100 race cars and 400 people, but Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order names racetracks as non-essential businesses and prohibits gatherings greater than 10 people.

Cristy Marrisett told the Times News on Monday they’re still allowing eight racers to use the track without crews on race nights. Counting the Marrisetts, that meets the 10-person limit for gatherings.

“Why are we being treated different?”

Cristy doesn't believe it’s fair that local golf courses are still open and a bass tournament was allowed to take place in Hawkins County last week with 72 teams participating but her race track has to remain closed.

“We've got 16.71 acres, yet we can't have more than 10 people on our property,” Cristy said. “That's 727,000 square feet. And they will not let us open with more than 10 people. That (Quarryville) boat ramp was full of people for the bass tournament Saturday, and the golf courses in Rogersville and Bean Station are both open, and they're allowing multiple people on a golf cart.”

Cristy added, “I'm trying to figure out why are we being treated different.”

Shortly after Lee issued the Safer at Home mandate, the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office responded to a complaint about racing taking place at CRP.

The dragstrip was given a warning by the HCSO, and since that time hasn't allowed more than 10 people on the property.

“We just go when there's a complaint”

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said Monday he is enforcing the guidelines in the governor's executive order pertaining to race tracks.

“The only complaints we received were on the dragstrip,” Lawson said. “According to the governor's executive order, they're supposed to be closed, and when they started, some of the neighbors called and complained. I don't have the manpower to go around everywhere checking on who is violating the executive order. We just go when there's a complaint.”

Although they aren't happy about it, the Marrisetts are obeying the sheriff’s warning. The consequences for not obeying the order could result in criminal citations.

Lawson added, “We would politely ask them to shut down, and if they didn't and ignored the warning, they would be cited into court.”

“Why is golf essential?”

“We'd get fined,” Cristy said. “According to the executive order, it's up to $1,000 per person, and we can't afford that. We have tried to get on unemployment. We've not gotten anywhere with that, but we're still trying. The money ran out for the small business loans, and we couldn't get any of that, and so far neither one of us has gotten our stimulus check.”

Cristy added, “We just want to know the reasoning behind why they can open and we can't — particularly the golf courses and them having that bass tournament last week. Why is golf essential?”

Cristy said she has a plan for offering a safer racing venue by spreading out the race crews throughout the property and keeping teams separated. She noted that CRP draws most of its audience from the race teams and their friends and families who are already in contact with each other on a daily basis.

But that plan hasn’t impressed local officials enough to give them a waiver from the executive order. 

“Our drivers are getting frustrated because they're seeing all these people at the golf courses, all these people in Lowe's, all these people in Walmart,” Cristy said. “To me, if they're going to shut the place down, they need to just shut everybody down because a lot of the ones who are doing the griping about us being open, they're still working and getting their checks.”

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