Drag Strip Owner Re-Opens After Suing Local County Officials

During the Covid-19 crisis there have been many different outlooks on the lockdown, what an “essential” business is, and the practices of our new everyday life. Some people are of the opinion the lockdown should end, businesses should resume as normal, and we should move on. Others believe a strict lockdown is still necessary and only absolutely essential businesses should be open.

Unfortunately for gearheads, drag strips were not deemed essential and most, if not all, have been required to shut down for the time being. While states are slowly opening back up, Illinois, where Coles County Dragway is located, is one of the hardest-hit states. With that being said, the Chicago-area (Cooke County) is the main affected area. Southern Illinois counties such as Coles County, where Rodney Viehland’s drag strip is located has had minimal cases. Coles County only has reported 22 cases with one death. So when local health officials told Viehland he still couldn’t re-open, he was frustrated. So Viehland opened anyway and did so legally. He sued them, and he won.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has been criticized for his cautious plans to reopen the state which would have pushed businesses like Viehland’s to open on May 29, at the earliest. Competition Plus talked Rodney who said he was left with no other choice if he wanted to stay in business.

“I felt like I could have gone probably another month maybe, but if I didn’t get something going by the first of June, there’s no way we would have survived,” Viehland said.

Viehland noted that his racers stepped up and helped in whatever way they could to help maintain the property. And while he tried to work with the county health department, they would never grant official approval to re-open.

Luckily, Viehland’s local representative Brad Halbrook understood his situation and reached out to state rep. Darren Bailey, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of Viehland challenging Pritzker’s stay-safer-at-home orders which reportedly exceeded his authority and violates the civil rights of the state’s residents.

After the fourth attempt to gain approval from the local health and county officials, Viehland hired attorney Tom DeVore to represent him in a lawsuit filed on Monday, May 4, 2020, against the Coles County State’s Attorney, Coles County Sheriff’s Department and the Coles County Health Department. The defendants had 48 hours to respond to the suit and none of the three responded.

Viehland received a letter from the court saying, “Given their failure to seek a court order within the time prescribed by law, this inaction by the local Board of Health is deemed as acknowledgment on their part that your business is not a public risk.”

Within a week, Coles County Dragway was open for a test and tune. Viehland even called the Coles County Health Department to give them a heads up on the opening out of goodwill. Out of precaution, Viehland had his legal documentation should the authorities show up.

Viehland is also acknowledging that just because he was able to open does not mean the track is Covid-19 immune. Viehland limited entrance to drivers and crewmembers.

“I was checking people’s temperatures at the same time as they came in,” Viehland said. “That was something I decided to do.”

At the end of the day, Viehland never wanted to be a rebel. He simply wanted to keep his drag strip in business.