Yakima Speedway plans to fire the engines for racing on Sept. 19 and, if approval comes, the savior of a decimated season — the Fall Classic — would follow two weeks later.
Limited to a few informal events and some practice sessions this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Speedway will stage a no-fans event for Pro Late Models and Hobby Stocks on Sept. 19 with hopes that will not be the end of a painfully short season.
Having lost its two other premier events — the Apple Cup in April and the Sun City 125 on the Northwest Super Late Model circuit last month — the Speedway is hoping that Yakima County’s declining COVID-19 cases will allow for fans to attend the 33rd annual Fall Classic scheduled for Oct. 2-4.
Track operator Doug Betterall met with city officials this week and has requested permission for 25-percent capacity crowd, or just under 2,500 spectators. Speedway officials are prepared to do temperature checks at the gate, enforce masking and spread out small groups of fans throughout the grandstand.
With direction from the local health district, the Speedway expects to hear back on the crowd request next week.
“We’re trying to save the race. We’re doing everything we can,” track official Randy Marshall said of the Fall Classic. “Like a lot of small businesses we’re struggling to keep this alive. This event is where most of our revenue for the year comes from, and without it I’m not sure what’s going to happen beyond this. But we’re trying to do the right thing and go through all the right channels.”
The Fall Classic has, in the past, involved four classes with a Super Late Model main event scheduled for 150 or 200 laps. It can attract up to 200 cars from all over the western states and Canada. Marshall said the goal is to aim for the same level of event. If the crowd request is denied, it’s uncertain if the Fall Classic, or even a scaled-down version, could still go forward.
“Without the fans and concessions, it would be really tough to have the pursue we normally do,” Marshall said. “We would typically pay out $25,000 to $35,000 over four divisions. We’ve had local businesses that have been very supportive and the back gate (pit pass fees) helps, but there are operating costs and insurance to cover. We’re looking at every way possible to make it happen.”
Races without fans have been the norm this year in Washington. The Northwest Super Late Model series finally staged its first race last month at South Sound Speedway in Rochester, Evergreen Speedway in Monroe has managed to race often but always without spectators, and the Wenatchee Valley Super Oval is in the same situation as Yakima in a modified Phase 1 of the state’s Safe Start plan.
Wenatchee Valley is hosting two significant races this month, starting with the Berschauer Memorial 100 on Sept. 12. Over 30 cars are entered with six from the Yakima area. Wenatchee will then host a Northwest Super Late Model race on Sept. 26, which would be an ideal lead-up to the Fall Classic.
While considerable progress is being made in the county with lowering positive cases, Marshall said the track would not consider postponing the Fall Classic to a later weekend.
“October is late already, and we have people who drive in from California and Canada,” he said. “That’s a long way to come to worry about fighting the weather. What we have is the prime weekend.”
So it will be a nervous month of decisions, requests, waiting and hoping for drivers and the venerable half-mile oval.
“It would be a real shame to have this get canceled,” Marshall said. “Our numbers are improving, and our fans are screaming for it. It’s time to get things opened up, and our numbers are showing that. But we’ll go with what the city and county tells us and we’ll do the right thing.”