Merriman aims at another "grand" season
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No driver has ever won 1,000 races twice, much less done it in consecutive years. But guess what. Merriman is ahead of last year's pace for victories. Entering Sept. 5 last season, Merriman had 710 wins.
"It's exciting," Merriman said. "I do the best I can to focus on each day and not look (at statistics). I guess if it's close, then it's probably attainable. It will definitely be in the back of my mind. If the opportunity continues to be there, hopefully I can knock it out.
"I'm sure it will be hard to repeat. No one has ever done it, and it's not because of a lack of talent. I think it's the grind. It gets to you. The work you have to put in and the traveling you have to put in is probably what gets to people more than anything. It's not just about talent. It's your mental state and physical state and being able to stay sharp."
Merriman, who lives in Northfield, Ohio, competes primarily at Northfield Park and The Meadows in western Pennsylvania, which is a 270-mile round-trip commute. He has won 437 races at Northfield, where he leads Wrenn by 30 victories in the battle for the track's driving title, and 165 at The Meadows, where he is third in the standings despite competing in fewer races than anyone in the top six at the track.
In addition, Merriman has won 65 races at Scioto Downs and had 46 victories at Miami Valley.
"The traveling is grueling," Merriman said. "It's hard to always feel at your best. I still have the same love, maybe even more, but being in the car a lot is tough. I try hard every day to bring the same attitude and same enthusiasm and desire. Some days are a little tougher than others, but I fight through it.
"I take pride in that, to be able to stay sharp and run the schedule that I do. I'm way more proud of being a hard worker than anything else."
Reaching 1,000 wins this year seemed unlikely when The Meadows closed for a month beginning in late January because of an outbreak of equine herpes virus. But Merriman, who has 50 fewer wins at The Meadows compared to this time last season, has overcome the lost time thanks to increased win totals at the other tracks.
"I've also chosen to leave The Meadows a little earlier than I used to (to get to the races at Northfield)," Merriman said. "I've been more efficient with the work I've gotten. It's going good. It's nice to be able to go to another racetrack and get a couple quality drives each time you're there. It makes you feel good that people actually want you to drive for them. I'm very appreciative of that."
He also made up for lost time by winning 118 races in July, the most for a driver in any month since Tim Tetrick's 121 victories in November 2007.
Merriman has won 10,537 races in his 21-year career, with more than half those victories coming in the most recent seven years. He could become the first driver to win four consecutive North American dash titles since Mike Lachance in 1984 through 1987.
"For me personally, to put pressure on myself on a daily basis to reach certain numbers is something I've never wanted to do," Merriman said. "I think it helps me to take it day by day. Setting goals is a great thing and can make you work harder, but I think I work hard enough as it is. I try to focus on race to race and day to day. That's the way I've been for a while and I just try to make every day the best I can.
"That's not just racing, but in life. My dad always says that every day you wake up it's like Christmas. You've got to treat it that way. It's a blessing."
And although Merriman does not compete on the sport's biggest stage -- the Grand Circuit -- on a regular basis, he is more than happy with his place in the sport.
"You hear so much about the Grand Circuit all the time, and I've been blessed to participate many times myself, but I honestly feel like I represent the Midwest or the people that are grinding it out every day," Merriman said. "I genuinely feel that way. I'm not representing myself, but what makes this business go around, which is the everyday racing.
"Some guys get their names in lights all the time, but I'm happy just to have my name in the program." (Ken Weingartner/USTA)