In recent years, if there was racing at Skagit Speedway, you could be almost certain to find Harold Beitler in his familiar chair atop the control tower, where he greeted visitors, playfully teased children — and adults — and kept an insightful eye on the races.
But Beitler, who died Tuesday at the age of 93, was more than a colorful character. He was one of the first drivers at Skagit Speedway and a fixture as it grew from little more than a field to an attraction that draws thousands of fans.
Beitler was among the track's first crop of drivers as it got its start in 1954. Over the years he served as track photographer, flagman and track announcer. Harold Beitler's son Steve is the current track owner and credits going to Harold's races as inspiring his own career in the sport.
Harold Beitler was born in Kanas and later settled in Sedro-Woolley with his family when he was a teenager.
He served in the Army in the Korean War, and after returning to Sedro-Woolley was at various times a police officer, volunteer firefighter and volunteer ambulance driver.
Harold Beitler also served on the Sedro-Woolley City Council for eight years.
Steve Beitler recalls asking his father to go with him on a trip to Seattle. His father refused because several volunteer firefighters were out of town that weekend and he felt he might be needed.
"He was always concerned about the protection of Sedro-Woolley," Steve Beitler said.
In the 1950s, Harold Beitler embarked on a racing career. Practices were held in cow pastures and hayfields, and in races drivers often whipped around a stake driven in the ground with fans watching and cheering while perched on logs and stumps.
Some of the early drivers purchased the initial plot of land in Alger that would become Skagit Speedway.
Harold Beitler recalled in a 2011 interview that too much dynamite was used to remove a stump while clearing the area for the track. The smoking ruin, he said, landed on a nearby highway.
Harold Beitler kept a tangible reminder of the early days in his garage — a 1937 Lincoln Zephyr Coupe once owned by early speedway star Elbert Lemley. Harold Beitler restored the car and occasionally showed it off in public. It's the only known surviving car from the track's inaugural race.
Harold Beitler said in 2011 he admired the skill and dedication of later drivers, and liked to tell them about the good times had by his generation.
He said he'd tell them, "You guys don't know what fun is."