1955 - November 23, 2013
Danny "Berzerko" Becker was known for his daredevil style of riding. He died Nov. 23 after a nearly two-year battle with esophageal cancer.
HUNTINGTON BEACH – Wide open.
It's the way U.S. Speedway Motorcycle Racing legend Danny Becker approached the track.
Riding wide open is squeezing the throttle with no intention of letting up for turns, no consideration for the brake and no fear.
This racing style earned Becker the nickname "Berzerko."
It's why the nights he raced at Costa Mesa Speedway were sold out, some women swooned and some young boys daydreamed of one day learning to ride.
More important to his family and friends, wide open is how he approached life off the track – candidly, lovingly and valiantly.
Becker died at his Huntington Beach home on Nov. 23 after a nearly two-year battle with esophageal cancer, a complication from a lifetime of struggling with indigestion. He was 58.
"He had this grace that settled in him over the last few months, like he knew something that none of us knew," said his daughter, Selina Becker, 36. "He was just so full of strength."
Becker is survived by his wife, Jojo Guerin Becker, 48, whom he met in 2006; his daughters Selina Becker and Michaela Becker, 23; his sisters Robin Sandler, Karen Haskell and Kim Klesjtan; and his father, John Jacobson Becker.
A memorial event is being planned for January, his family said.
Selina Becker remembers seeing her dad ride at Costa Mesa Speedway in the final years of his professional career in the 1980s.
The announcer would stand on the table to introduce him. He didn't do that for the other riders.
She remembers being 4 years old and watching as he'd complete his final lap in a wheelie as the crowd erupted in admiration.
"Everyone would have their eyes on him," Becker said. "He was just this raw talent, this daredevil. It was beautiful."
And when she returned to school the following Monday, she remembers her preschool teachers reverting to star-struck teenagers. "Danny Becker is your father?" they'd ask.
Women fawned over his feathered blond hair that framed green eyes and charming smile.
At the peak of his career, the Beckers had to change their home phone number nine times to escape the calls from female fans.
Men admired his fearless approach to the track: clenching the throttle and racing on the outside.
"On the cushion, that's the outside, was his favorite position to ride in," said longtime friend Ron Stewart, 73. "It was the most difficult for anybody to ride but he had the talent and the fortitude to do that."
Stewart, owner of Orange County Welding in Huntington Beach, introduced Becker to racing.
At age 12, Becker would ride his bicycle with a wagon in tow filled with old engines to be refurbished and used in Stewart's mini motorcycle shop on Beach Boulevard.
Becker, a student at Fountain Valley High School, would watch the men in the shop race go-karts and speedway motorcycles. By age 16, he was riding his own.
"He had an unbelievable amount of talent," Stewart said. "From that time on, he became the idol of the kids in the grandstand."
Becker started racing in 1971 and quickly gained popularity and international recognition. He raced until the early 1980s, making it to Nationals three times in his career.
Fellow racer and friend Bobby Hardison, 61, said Becker was lighthearted and playful until he pulled his bike out onto the track.
"He was all business, that's where the friendship ended," Hardison said. "But as soon as the race was over, he'd be the first to laugh about it."
Becker had a star quality, but it was one he downplayed. He brushed off words such as "legend" or "influential" that were so often attached to his name in speedway circles, friends said.
"As far as racing goes, he was one of the best," Hardison said. "His particular riding style made him incredibly fast and just amazing to watch."
Fans remember a thrill-seeker who loved to entertain, but his family said the extrovert the crowd embraced was reserved for the track.
"Danny had such humility," his wife said. "He never bragged about himself, his racing or anything."
Becker was the type of man who could use "sweetheart" and "sugar" to address women, and it wasn't condescending, family members said.
He would empty his wallet for a stranger on the street and pull over to rescue an injured animal on the side of the road.
He despised gossip and used the words "I love you" every chance possible, even with new friends. When he said it, he always meant it.
Becker's singing voice rivaled Jim Morrison but his laugh sounded more like the bark of a seal – guttural with heavy gasps in between, his wife said.
"Just hearing it made everyone laugh," she said. "There was no mistaking that laugh."
Guerin Becker met her husband at a dive bar in Costa Mesa. The two were engaged New Year's Eve 2011.
Just a few weeks later, Becker was diagnosed with stage III esophageal cancer.
The wedding was postponed because of the treatment, but Becker wanted a ceremony in front of their family and friends before he died.
They were married Sept. 14 in the backyard of their Huntington Beach home.
"It may have been his goodbye to a lot of people," his wife said. "We didn't want anybody to be sad. It was beautiful."
His family said Becker never complained throughout his illness and continued to express gratitude for his family, friends and fans until he died.
"A few days before he died he said, 'I'm the luckiest man in the world,' " Selina Becker said. "He knew he was loved."
He approached death the same way he rode the track and lived his life: wide open.
"That's how he took everything," his daughter said. "He had that same kind of bravery. He wasn't afraid."
By JAIMEE LYNN FLETCHER / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Contact the writer: 714-796-7953 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hometown:Fountain Valley, California - USA
Place of Birth:
Date of Birth: 1955
Relatives in Speedway:
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Date Started Speedway:1971 - ~1980's
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Photo by: Dennis Greene
Fan favorite for his "go, blow or put a hole in the fence" style. Danny Becker could do it all.. ride high or low and mix it in traffic with anyone.
USA: Costa Mesa - Ascot -Bakersfield (Oildale) - Irwindale - Ventura - and many others
1974 US Nationals
1973 US Nationals
1972 US Nationals