(9/1/21 – Alex Nieten) … Sean “The Shark” Becker and the Vertullo Motorsports team couldn’t have picked a better time during the NARC-King of the West Fujitsu Sprint Car calendar to be clicking on all cylinders.
When it was announced earlier this year that Becker would be tackling the entire King of the West schedule, it came as somewhat of a
surprise as his last full KWS tour came back in 2014. However, even with the recent growth of 360 racing in California, 410 sprint cars have always been at the front of Becker’s mind. The opportunities just haven’t always presented themselves.
“I think, deep down, it’s always been the ultimate goal,” Becker said of racing 410s. “I ran in 2004, and that was my rookie season with the Golden State Challenge. Then in 2005 I switched to a new team and won that championship and then was out of a ride. So, really there was only two times since 2005 that I actually had a car owner that was willing to do the whole series. In all of that time I’ve always wanted to be 410 racing, but the opportunity just wasn’t there.”
Luckily for Becker, a single weekend of racing a decade ago and some casual conversation between he and Dave Vertullo last year led to a fortuitous phone call this past winter.
“We just said hi in passing last year, and I had driven for him maybe in 2011 just for one weekend in Chico for Fall Nationals,” Becker said of how the deal began to come together. “Obviously we’ve raced against each other for a long time and knew of each other. Then over the off-season he gave me a call and asked if I wanted to go King of the West racing.”
Like any new pairing, Becker and the team had to hone their dynamic and endured some early season struggles.
While Becker earned top-10’s in two of the opening three races, none of the results were better than seventh, and the 2005 champ is accustomed to competing for more top-5s and podiums. June’s Pombo-Sargent Classic at Ocean Speedway saw Becker snag his first top-5 of the year, but the Starr Property Management/Morrison Concrete No. 83V finished outside the top-15 in the next two events. Even with the troubles, the team refused to hang their heads.
“I knew going into this we were going to be at a big disadvantage to all of the top dog teams that have been together for a long time and already developed a huge notebook and experience together,” Becker said of the hurdles they’ve had to clear. “When we’re starting from scratch basically, I think in the beginning of the season you could definitely tell. We were just a tick off the pace. It took a lot of trial and error. Luckily, Vertullo and the whole team kept a lot of faith in me. We made a lot of different changes to the car hoping it would pan out, and we’ve taken big strides for sure.”
Recent results help measure those strides.
After the pair of sub-15th place finishes, the veteran put together his best four-race stretch of the season. First came the highlight of their year thus far when Becker survived a chaotic feature at Ocean Speedway to score his first Howard Kaeding Classic victory. It was worth $6900. The win was Becker’s first with KWS since 2014. More importantly, the team’s efforts to that point had finally been rewarded with a night in which they were strong from the time they unloaded to the checkered flag flying.
“I feel like there have been a lot of races throughout the season where we felt that we were fast enough to win,” Becker noted. “But we just struggled in the heat race or struggled in qualifying but were good in the main, or we were good in qualifying but not the main. We never put a full night together, and we finally did. Everything just kind of fell into place, so it was definitely a big weight lifted off our shoulders.”
The following Friday at Tulare Becker netted a top-5 and backed that up with a ninth the next night in Santa Maria. The latter could’ve been an even better result, but Becker got caught up in multiple incidents before salvaging the top-10. Then, Becker scored top-10s in three of the four races of the Fastest Four Days in Motorsports. Overall, Becker’s last seven races have yielded six top-10s and a 7.9 average finish. Compare that to his three top-10s in the first six events of 2021 and a 12th place average finish over that span and it’s a clear testament to their progress.
The team’s momentum has built at an ideal time with the Louie Vermeil Classic on deck. The west coast staple is traditionally hosted by Calistoga Speedway but moved to Becker’s home track, Chico’s Silver Dollar Speedway, for 2021.
The Shark’s record speaks for itself in Chico. The Roseville native has amassed 66 career sprint car victories at the Butte County bullring, including a 2012 triumph in a Gold Cup prelim night over the World of Outlaws. Becker’s win total is good enough for second on the all time list, trailing only the legendary Brent Kaeding. Becker claimed the track championship from 2012 to 2016, accounting for five of his seven titles at the quarter mile. He owns three Fall Nationals titles and a 2006 Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial triumph. Becker credits much of his success to his earliest racing experiences and countless circuits around Chico.
“I raced outlaw karts basically ten minutes down the road at Cycleland Speedway,” Becker explained. “Cycleland kind of sets up a lot like how Silver Dollar is laid out… Chico was also the very first track I started at. I started in modifieds racing there and then sprint cars. My first time ever in a sprint car was at Chico. I think its mainly the amount of laps I’ve put on there.”
The blend of the team’s growing cohesion and Becker’s impeccable resumé at Silver Dollar Speedway have combined to create a key opportunity for Labor Day weekend. The two nights in Chico mean two chances at victory lane in the lucrative Louie Vermeil Classic. Each feature pays a stout $5,000 to win. Becker likes his chances this weekend.
“One hundred percent we are confident going into the Louie,” Becker said. “That’s my home track. I have easily the most laps at that track compared to any other track, particularly with the 410. As comfortable as I’ve been feeling in the car, I feel like right when we unload we can be fast from hot laps to qualifying to the heat and finish it off for the main.”
Becker expects to be toward the front during the Louie Vermeil Classic as he continues his march toward the all-time wins record at Chico. He’s only gotten better as the season has progressed aboard the Vertullo Motorsports machine and is motivated to add another historically significant event to his list of accomplishments at the track he’s spent his entire career competing at.
“To move it to my home track is huge,” Becker said. “It would be a huge feather in my cap and bucket list item to be able to add it to my resumé.”