(12/18/2021 – Alex Nieten) Sebastopol, CA… In recent years the West Coast has become a proving ground for some of the most talented youth behind the wheel of a sprint car, and the trend will continue in 2022 with Joel Myers Jr. teaming with Dave and Debbie Vertullo for the NARC Fujitsu General Sprint Car campaign.
In just the past 15 years, drivers like Gio Scelzi, Carson Macedo and Kyle Larson all turned heads in their teenage years with impressive NARC seasons before establishing the national profiles they have today. Coincidentally, Larson got his start in sprint cars and his first series victory in the Vertullo No. 83V.
Now, the 15-year-old Myers Jr. has parlayed his early sprint car success and a recently developed friendship into a chance in the notorious yellow and black machine.
“This year we became friends with Dave (Vertullo),” Myers Jr. said of how the deal began to piece together. “We pitted next to each other, always talked and hung out. Later on this year Dave started talking about a couple things once their season ended. Then we were able to all sit down and have a little meeting and kind of finalize everything.”
On top of helping Larson kickstart his career, Vertullo Motorsports has also played a role in developing other potent drivers like Brad Sweet and Chuck Gurney. Though he’s young, Myers Jr. is aware of the history and looking forward to his own chapter in the car.
“I feel like it’s a very cool opportunity,” Myers Jr. said. “You know, it’s where Larson started out and kind of got his feet wet. Then you had (Brad) Sweet in it and Chuck Gurney. You’ve just had a lot of people in that car, and it’s very cool to be able to get the opportunity of something like that.”
After a wildly successful tenure in the karting ranks of California that included a nearly 60-race win streak, Myers Jr. stepped into his family-owned No. 46JR sprint car a couple years ago and then made a name for himself as one of the sport’s rising talents in 2021.
The Sebastopol native finished second in Placerville Speedway points this year, trailing only local legend, Andy Forsberg. In 15 starts at the tricky quarter mile, he tallied 12 top-10s including one against a loaded field at NARC’s Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial.
While the majority of Myers Jr.’s starts at Placerville were in a 360, he proved to be a worthy contender whenever they bolted in the 410 to compete with NARC at a variety of tracks. In just his second series start with the West Coast’s premier 410 series, Myers Jr. stood on the podium at night’s end with a third-place finish at Petaluma Speedway.
The young driver’s 2021 results are dotted with many other noteworthy performances. Driving the Mike Phulps’ No. 56, Myers Jr. led the July NARC race at Petaluma until contact with a slower car ended his hopes for a first win. He finished in the top-five at Keller Auto Speedway’s Anthony Simone Classic and capped the NARC season with a solid sixth-place result at Stockton. At Arizona Speedway’s year-ending Copper Classic, Myers Jr. earned a pair of top-10s against massive fields both nights.
“I feel like 2021 was a pretty good year,” Myers Jr. commented. “We got 90 races in and were overall pretty good, I felt.”
The ascending star points to getting acclimated quickly and confidently in the sprint car as the main reasoning behind his early speed.
“I feel like just being comfortable and having confidence,” Myers Jr. said of what’s helped him make the transition to sprint cars. “I was able to work with a couple crew chiefs along the way that were very helpful with my confidence. Confidence is probably one of the biggest things in sprint car racing now.”
Now, Myers Jr. will take over driving duties of the Vertullo machine aiming for an even stronger 2022. The teenager will have some big shoes to fill as NorCal mainstay Sean Becker wheeled the No. 83V to a fifth-place finish in 2021 NARC points with five top-fives, 13 top-10s and a memorable win in the Howard Kaeding Classic.
And speaking of winning, that’s one box Myers Jr. hopes his new partnership will click early on in 2022. Despite flirting with victory lane many times this past year, Myers Jr. is yet to snag his inaugural sprint car victory.
“I definitely would like to get my first win out of the way,” Myers Jr. said of his 2022 goals. “It’s been, I feel, a while coming. We’ve had some bad luck on parts or just some things fell not our way, so hopefully that comes this year, and it would be very cool to get one in the Vertullo car.”
Next season will offer plenty of opportunities for Myers Jr. to claim his first win. The NARC calendar alone features 27 races with a handful of dates at tracks both Myers Jr. and Vertullo have found plenty of success.
A few months remain for Myers Jr. and the Vertullo team to prepare for the driver’s rookie NARC campaign. Though he’s excited for the golden opportunity, Myers Jr. is wise beyond his years and will carry a pragmatic approach into 2022 as he looks to take more steps in his racing journey.
“I feel like we’re going to take it day by day and see how everything goes,” Myers Jr. said. “You could fast in one car and kind of struggle in another, but I feel like Dave works very well with anyone he brings in, and I feel like all of us will get along pretty good and we can all make the best out of it.”