Yakima Valley auto racer Matt Chappel remembers the first time he got the racing bug.
About 20 years ago — he doesn’t know exactly when — the Zillah native visited the Yakima Speedway and said to himself, “I can do that.”
After that, Chappel purchased his first 4-cylinder hornet car and started competing on some dirt tracks in the area. His small car experience lasted all of four races. Ever since then, he has felt the need for speed.
“The hornets just weren’t fast enough, so I bought my first Camaro,” said Chappel, who lives in Yakima and works at R&Q Parts and Machine Inc. in Selah. “Then it was just one fast car after another. Now, years later, I’m getting to the point where I’m winning some races.”
Most recently, Chappel won a Fall Classic race at the Tri-Cities Raceway last October, the track’s first event in 17 years. He came up short of winning the Fall Classic title because he blew out a tire on day two, but “a win’s a win.”
“I’m so competitive that it’s not even funny,” he said, adding that he has won numerous races at the Yakima Speedway and on the dirt track circuit over the years.
This spring, Chappel is preparing for the April 2-3 Apple Cup — also being held in the Tri-Cities now that the Yakima track has closed for good. He expects to spend many summer nights in Benton City this year, and he also plans to compete in Wenatchee and possibly Hermiston.
“I’m not sure how that one is going to play out,” he said. “The Hermiston track is a little smaller, and I’m more of a big track guy.”
Chappel and his racing friends, including Garrett and Dillon Huffines of Selah, are excited to have a quality track in Central Washington after the Yakima Speedway shut down after an abbreviated 2020 season.
He credits Tri-Cities Raceway owners Greg Walden and Eric Van Winkle for their commitment to keeping small-town auto racing alive east of the Cascades.
“They have done an incredible job bringing it back,” Chappel said. “They have made it more of an event center, and they have plans to make it even better. Plus, the track is a second faster than the Yakima Speedway.”
When Chappel isn’t on the track or preparing for a race, he’s working on cars of all kinds at R&Q, located at 403 S. First St. Owner Kevin Quesnell goes out of his way to help a number of local drivers, outfitting them with parts, providing workshop space and sharing his mechanical expertise.
“He spends a lot of time with me and other late model guys,” Chappel said. “He makes sure our motors are good to go, and he spends however many hours it takes to get us ready.”
Quesnell not only contributed money and labor to outfit Chappel’s Fall Classic car; he also drove down to the raceway with a much-needed wheel bearing and helped him prep the car.
“He also hopped on the radio and did an incredible job spotting for me,” Chappel said of his boss. “It means a lot to have a guy like Kevin on my side.”
R&Q is one of Chappel’s primary sponsors, along with Alpha Pyrotechnics, York’s Pest Control, Independent Truck Driver Training, and All B Roof-Continuous Gutters. His wife’s business, Glitter Obsession by Pam, also provides consistent support, along with his parents, Paul and Tracy Walters.
“None of this would be possible without my family and my sponsors coming together for me,” Chappel said. “I’m just surrounded by good people, and that’s why I’m able to do all of this.”
Chappel added that he still dreams of someday driving on a major racetrack in Las Vegas or Bristol, Conn. It’s not out of the question, but hitting the big time would require even more financial support — and time — than he currently has.
For now, he’s just happy making a name for himself among the local racing community.
“It’s such a thrill for me to see a packed crowd standing up and cheering,” Chappel said. “I hadn’t experienced that until last year when we raced in the Tri-Cities in front of a sold-out crowd, and I can’t wait to do that again. To come around turn 3 and see the fans on their feet cheering — there’s just nothing like it.”
Follow Chappel on his Facebook page or on Tik Tok @mattchappel.