You might not think a 76-year-old used car salesman’s passing would move that many people. A local fixture whose passions inclined toward American muscle cars and promoting his beloved Yakima Speedway, Doug Bettarel blended in easily as a Yakima everyman. A guy in a ballcap who’d greet you with a slap on the back and a crusty handshake.
He had a grin as wide as the grille of a ’69 Mustang, too. And he wouldn’t hesitate — as many who knew him have been saying in the past few days — to give you the shirt off his back.
After serving aboard the USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, he also had a tender spot for veterans. He hosted Veterans Day events at his car lot each year, giving away clothes, shoes, hats and hot coffee to veterans who were down on their luck. He also initiated numerous reunions of his old shipmates.
Bettarel died Sept. 19, and whether you considered the speedway a community treasure or an ear-splitting annoyance, you couldn’t question Bettarel’s love for the track he helped run until it was sold earlier this year. The Oregon-based buyer is expected to use it as a heavy-equipment lot.
You also couldn’t question Bettarel’s love for the community.
The California native had lived in the Yakima Valley for 30 years, finding his way here after he got out of the service.
He supported numerous local causes with his time and money, but stood his ground on his conservative political beliefs.
Just this past October, he staged one final running of the Fall Classic race at the speedway, defying state COVID safety rules and allowing about 2,500 fans to pack the stands without masks. He ended up paying a $2,500 fine.
Maybe it’s fitting that the speedway and Bettarel are going out at the same time. It’s hard to imagine one without the other.
Last week, while workers at Better All Auto grieved the loss of their boss, they honored him by keeping the doors open — even selling two cars the day after his death.
“I know he would have loved that,” general manager Ralph Osorio told the YH-R’s Phil Ferolito.
Wouldn’t be surprising.
“For a man who only had a high school education, I kind of see him as a genius,” said Bettarel’s sister, Dolores Gieb. “He just had a mission.”
Maybe that mission — right or wrong — was to personify some longstanding Yakima values. Maybe it was to remind us that, regardless of political stripe, we share common ground in this Valley, and we need to respect one another and get along as best we can.
In either case, mission accomplished, Mr. Bettarel.