YAKIMA — The state has fined Yakima Speedway operator Doug Bettarel $2,500 for allowing fans to attend the Fall Classic auto racing event last weekend in violation of the state’s Safe Start phased reopening from COVID-19.

The state Liquor and Cannabis Board delivered notice of the public safety violation, which carries a standard $2,500 fine, to Bettarel’s company, B and B Speedway Promotions, on Wednesday. Such a fine is an unusual step for the board to take, Liquor and Cannabis Board spokesman Brian Smith said in a Thursday email. The board’s goal is to educate businesses and help them comply with the restrictions laid out in Gov. Jay Inslee emergency proclamations and his Safe Start plan.

“Very few violations have been issued, reserved for those licensed venues that openly defy the proclamation and potentially threaten public health,” he wrote.

The violation did not result in suspension of the B and B Speedway Promotion’s liquor license.

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. Bettarel, who owns Better All Auto Sales and has been the track’s sole operator since last year, estimated that 1,800-2,000 people attended Sunday’s finals races after about 500 attended Saturday’s preliminaries. Hundreds who attended the Sunday session stayed for a rally in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp. Photos from the weekend show the bulk of fans in the stands were unmasked.

Bettarel had planned to continue hosting public events at the track but changed his mind after asking the board’s enforcement officer what sort of penalties that might elicit. The officer told Bettarel he could face an emergency suspension and, if he violated that, could face criminal charges, Smith said.

That would be too big a risk, said Bettarel, who canceled an event this coming weekend because of it. That event, the International Auto Sound Challenge Association’s DTP Truck Wars, would not have included racing but would have been open to the public. It has been moved to Spokane County Raceway, according to the IASCA website.

“I can muster the money to try to pay the fine,” he said. “But I’m not going to risk them putting the cuffs on me.”

This was the first instance of a sports venue in Washington being fined for hosting a large sporting event, Smith wrote.

Bettarel plans to fight the fine, which he can do either in an informal hearing or an administrative hearing. He said the primary reason he sold admission to the event was the $30,000 in debt he’s accrued overseeing an empty venue this year.

“It ain’t about ‘me’; it’s about ‘us,’” he said. “I feel terrible for all the businesses that have closed and all the people who are stuck at home.”

Those struggles notwithstanding, the Yakima Health District condemned such large gatherings this week. Things will only get worse as long as people insist on gathering in large groups, district health officer Dr. Teresa Everson said.

“We must continue to keep in mind that we have only come this far by following public health recommendations,” she said this week. “If we become more relaxed, especially attending events with opportunity for large-scale transmission, it is only a matter of time before rates will go up again, putting our schools and businesses in danger of closing again.”