MERRITT WRAPS 2006 DRIVING CHAMPIONSHIP WITH SECOND PLACE FINISH AT BEST IN THE DESERT HENDERSON TERRIBLE'S 400
HENDERSON, Nevada -- Christmas arrived early outside this Las Vegas suburb.
And Randy Merritt got just what he was wishing for -- the 2006 Best in the Desert Racing Association Class 8100 Full-Stock season driving championship, wrapped up neatly with a solid, second place finish in the Henderson Terrible's 400.
"I honestly don't know what to say," said an overwhelmed Merritt at the finish line here Dec. 2. "This has been a long time coming, for everyone on this team.
"It's incredible, and although we're all ready to go out and celebrate, I don't think it will really sink in until we get home and we've had some time to think about it.
"All I can say right now is how much I want to thank my crew, and the sponsors who have helped pay the bills all season long. Without all of them, and I do mean ALL of them, this moment wouldn't be possible, we wouldn't be here right now."
As usual, the off-road racing veteran from Parker, Ariz., downplayed his own role in winning his first driving championship, with the keyword being "driving" championship.
In the final analysis, Merritt drove every mile logged by the Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150 in 2006. That was 1,630 miles of racing without any relief.
Along the way, he logged a second place finish in the Parker 425, a fourth at the Terrible's Town 250, a win in the Vegas to Reno and a win in the Las Vegas 300, capped off by a second place finish in the Henderson Terrible's 400.
In the Henderson Terrible's 400, with the season driving crown hinging on the outcome, nobody would have doubted Merritt if he had chose to drive a conservative, defensive race, trying only to score enough points to secure the season championship.
But that's not his style. It hasn't been all season long. So, instead, Merritt, who entered the event as the No. 1 driver in class with a huge target on his back, left the starting line in the Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150 with full intentions of winning the event. And when the dust cleared, he had come close, crossing the finish line in 6 hours, 39 seconds, a scant 3 minutes, 26 seconds behind the race winner.
More importantly, however, was the fact that Merritt finished 2 minutes, 50 seconds ahead of Chandler, Ariz., driver Greg Fouts, who was his nearest challenger in the race to the season championship.
"We didn't do anything different," said Merritt. "We went out to win the race. That's all there is to it.
"I'm not saying there wasn't any pressure to do well, but if anybody was feeling any pressure, we sure didn't talk about it. We all went out and did our jobs. Hey, if it was meant to be, it was meant to be, that's all I can say."
It also helped that the Mongo Racing KCHiLites Ford F-150 ran almost flawlessly -- there was a short, five-minute pause in the action when rider/technician Chris Golding had to get out and fix a Rear ABS Sensor on the truck -- all day long.
Plus there was one textbook pit stop handled by the Mongo Racing crew.
And there is the fact that Merritt did not have one flat tire.
As a matter of fact, in 1,630 miles of racing in 2006, the Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150's Goodyear Wrangler GSAs never had one flat tire.
"Wow!" said Merritt. "How good is that?
"I mean, you talk about a confidence booster. There is nothing better than being able to stand on the gas and get up on the wheel at the start of a race, knowing that I'm not going to have to worry about a flat tire.
"I don't know how else to put it, except to say the tires Goodyear supplied us with all season long were awesome, and we most likely wouldn't be celebrating a championship if it hadn't been for them."
In the final analysis, Merritt finished the season in the No. 1 position with an eight-point margin over Fouts.
He also wound up third in the race to the Best in the Desert 2006 overall Grand Champion.
If there was any irony to the season outcome, it's the fact that Merritt is now the second off-road driver from Parker to be crowned a champion, the other being Manny Esquerra, who helped crew the Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150, along with Tudy Esquerra.
Other members of the crew included Steve Soliza, Steve Draper, Raul Cardenas and Dwayne Buelke.
"OK, now that that we've done it, won a championship, all that's left to do is ... win another," said Merritt.
And that begins with the Bluewater Resort and Casino Parker 425, scheduled Feb. 2-3-4, 2007.
"We'll be there," said Merritt.
The team wants to thank all its sponsors -- KC HiLites, Ford Trucks, F&M Baldenegro Farms, Goodyear, Sway-Away, Visteon, Borla, Bodyline, Autofab, TNC Machine, Race Craft, NAPA in Parker, and JD Squared -- for their support