Steve Beitler doesn’t remember the first time he was at Skagit Speedway. But he’s got a pretty good excuse.
“I went to my first race at four or five months old,” Beitler said.
Call it an auspicious start for the current track owner, who’s being inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame this week.
Recalled Beitler: “I got a call a couple days before Xmas Eve, and they said ‘You’ve made the cut, you’re going into the Hall of Fame this year.’ It was just so surreal.”
For Beitler, the honor is the product of a lifelong career in racing that began as a longtime driver, then transitioned to sales before purchasing the track he grew up on back in 2001.
Seventeen years later, he now oversees operations at three tracks – Skagit Speedway, Grays Harbor Raceway and at the fairgrounds in Yakima - and was named National Promoter of the Year by Racing Promotions Monthly, an award for which 1200 short tracks and drag strips are eligible.
“You know, I always had a vision of what I thought a racetrack could be and should be and I saw a lot of tracks across the country – how they were run, I saw things I liked, I saw things I didn’t think was the best way to do it, so I tried to incorporate all of the ideas I’d seen over the years,” Beitler said.
Which is exactly what the struggling Skagit Speedway needed when Beitler took the plunge to buy it in 2001.
“I tell people it’s like buying the Titanic after it hit the iceberg,” Beitler recalled. “The first thing we’re gonna do is patch the holes and just get this thing floating upright before we worry about sailing ahead. So it took a couple years to really get it stabilized.”
Today, not only is it stable – it’s a successful staple of the local community.
And the former World of Outlaws driver, whose father Harold drove in the first race at the Speedway in 1954, is now a Hall of Famer, whose contributions are measured by memories made every week on the track, and in the stands.
“Really the best part of my race night is when I can look out at the crowd. And I see Mom’s and Dad’s, sisters and brothers, grandmas and grandpas, people having fun. And they’re wagering and elbowing each other,” Beitler said.
“Just seeing all the families out there together. To me, it’s so gratifying to know that in a small way, I brought everybody together and gave them a night of entertainment. It’s affordable and exciting and fun, and when they leave, you know they’re going to be talking about it for several days.”
Beitler also made several mentions of his hard-working staff over the course of our interview.
“I always say I’m the captain of the ship, but without all the people downstairs rowing their butts off, this boat wouldn’t go nowhere,” Beitler said. “I’m getting all the accolades for what’s happened. But, I got a big team behind me. I got a really good team at Skagit Speedway. I’ve got a great team down at Gray’s Harbor Raceway. And even the people helping out at the Fairgrounds in Yakima. You know, I’ve just got really good people. I learned a long time ago to surround yourself with the best people you can find. And just guide them and coach them and let them do their jobs.”