The crowd watches the Super Late Models race at the 33rd annual Fall Classic on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 at Yakima Speedway in Yakima, Wash.

Doug Betteral knows the heat is coming.

But he says he's ready to take it.

The local businessman and track operator at Yakima Speedway opened the gates wide for the 33rd annual Fall Classic over the weekend and a near-capacity crowd showed up for Sunday's three main events, all but filling a grandstand that can accommodate close to 10,000.

With little to no regard for social distancing and face-mask protection, it was a huge gathering of race fans eager to not only see a wide range of competition but also make a like-minded statement about the state's Safe Start restrictions on allowable crowd sizes.

And Loren Culp jumped on the opportunity to make a statement, too. After the final race, the Republican gubernatorial candidate held a protest rally, which included an assembled stage, full band and video screen, and most of the crowd stayed for the event in the late afternoon.

While Betteral was surprised at the size of the turnout, he said he was heartily encouraged by it and was glad to have Culp be a part of it.

"It's amazing, really, because we did no advertising," he said. "All we did was put it out there on (Facebook) and all these people showed up. They've been cooped up for what, seven months? There are risks in life, sure, but a person should be allowed to make their own decision about those risks. These are good people who just wanted to come out on a beautiful day and see some racing."

Betteral had a schedule of 13 events planned for 2020, starting with the 53rd annual Apple Cup in early April. The coronavirus pandemic led to restrictions that forced the cancellation of nearly all of it. Prior to the Fall Classic, which typically ends the season for circle-track racing in the Northwest, the Speedway hosted just two low-key, single-class races with no fans.

Yakima County has been in some form of Phase 1 throughout the pandemic, and no circle tracks in Washington have staged any events this year with fans. Idaho, on the other hand, has held a full slate of racing events with spectators.

With one last shot at recouping heavy losses in 2020, Betteral said he was as motivated financially as politically.

"I have a lot of debt here, about $30,000 in the hole, and while this weekend helps with that I've got a lot of bills to pay," he said. "Racing in Yakima is really close to dying and we're all trying to save it."

Betteral said he was contacted over the weekend by the Washington State Liquor Board and Yakima County Heath Department and told he was hosting an "illegal event." But he was swayed by strong support to push ahead with the event, which drew over 130 cars from throughout the Northwest.

"Look, I'm an American and a conservative who believes in the letter of the law and following that law," he added. "But some of these restrictions are insensitive and, frankly, insane. There are a lot of people here today who believe that, too."

This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Doug Betteral's last name.

Having started here in the Herald-Republic sports department a few lifetimes ago, it's been my privilege to cover the high school beat in the Valley since 1987. Over the years I've tagged along with our teams to every corner of the state and somehow haven't missed a Mat Classic in Tacoma since it began in 1989 or the state cross country championships. My wife and I, both CWU graduates, raised a daughter here and love to spend time hiking on any trails from the Greenway to the Pacific Crest. When that energy isn't available, any coffee shops or breweries work just fine. Cheers! 

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