As of Monday afternoon, Yakima Speedway operator Doug Bettarel hadn’t been fined for flouting the state’s Safe Start rules by hosting races with fans in the stands over the weekend, but he figures it’s probably coming.
Bettarel, who owns Better All Auto Sales and has been the track’s sole operator since last year, knew he was courting trouble when he allowed spectators for the annual Fall Classic. Other races have been run this season in Washington, but none appear to have allowed fans in the stands. By his count about 500 showed up Saturday for prelims, and between 1,800 and 2,000 were there for Sunday’s finals. On Saturday, Bettarel said, an official from the Yakima Health District told him the event was illegal. On Sunday, he said, someone from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board told him the same thing.
“He said my liquor license could be suspended and there would probably be some fine,” Bettarel said. “I’m nervous about it. I think it’s going to be large. I’m the only one who’s done this, so I think they might make an example of me.”
Liquor and Cannabis Board communications director Brian Smith said Monday afternoon he wasn’t aware of this specific case yet, adding that the bulk of the agency’s interactions with businesses related to the Safe Start plan are educational rather than disciplinary. It generally only sanctions businesses that are operating in open defiance. A message seeking comment from the Yakima Health District was not returned by press time Monday.
Yakima County remains in a modified Phase 1 of the state’s four-part reopening plan, which does not allow social gatherings of more than five people. Additionally, county businesses are prohibited from admitting customers unless they’re wearing masks.
Several Yakima County fitness businesses were fined by the state Department of Labor and Industries in August for “willful” violations of COVID-19 safety rules, the largest of which was a $38,556 fine levied against Fit City NW LLC for operating three Anytime Fitness locations during the shutdown.
Bettarel said Monday that opening the gates for the Fall Classic was his only chance to recoup some of the $30,000 in debt he’s accrued running the track, and it was a risk he had to take.
“I would do it again,” he said.
Though photos of the stands taken Sunday show mostly unmasked fans, including large groups in close proximity, Bettarel said he encouraged social distancing and mask wearing and that everyone had their temperature checked before entering. The concession stands didn’t sell food because of COVID concerns. Normally the stands would be “packed elbow to elbow” for the Fall Classic, he said.
“We did space people out — not perfect but pretty close — in the grandstand, he said.
The Sunday races were followed by a political rally for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Loren Culp. About 500 people stayed for the rally. Bettarel said Monday he hoped that making the event a political one rather than strictly a sporting event would give him more leeway with regard to the Safe Start rules. Culp and other speakers hosted a May rally at the speedway, which drew hundreds and escaped fines.
“I thought that might have been my way out,” Bettarel said.