BITD: Mongo Racing Parker 425 preview

PARKER'S RANDY MERRITT THE MAN TO BEAT IN 2007 BITD SERIES THE DEFENDING CLASS CHAMPION IS ON A MISSION TO MAKE IT TWO IN A ROW No, Randy Merritt hasn't made any major changes since the 2006 Best In The Desert Championship ...



No, Randy Merritt hasn't made any major changes since the 2006 Best In The Desert Championship series season.

But make no mistake about it, there is going to be a huge red target on his back when the 2007 Best In The Desert championship series gets under way Feb. 3 with the Bluewater Resort and Casino Parker 425.

It comes with being the defending series champion in Class 8100 Full Stock, a title the driver from Parker, Ariz., won in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada during the five-race 2006 season.

"Yeah, from what everybody tells me, this is what happens when you're the top dog ... everybody is gunning for you, looking to knock you out of the top spot," said Merritt from his race shop last week. "It's like having a big ol' red target painted on your back. But I don't mind. No, not at all."

As a matter of fact, if he has it his way, he'd like nothing better than to be wearing another target just like it when the 2008 season rolls around.

"We're up for it, we're ready for 2007," said Merritt. "We're ready to show everyone that we're the real deal, that we can win another championship, that we're going to be a desert racing force that everyone is going to have to deal with for a long time."

Don't question Merritt's enthusiasm. He certainly has the numbers to back it up. In 2006 he won two races; finished second twice; fourth once; and most important, had no DNFs.

He also went toe-to-toe with some of the sport's best, held his own, and finished third overall in the race to be the Best In The Desert Grand Champion.

What's more, the truck he hopes to drive to a second straight crown in 2007, is the same Mongo Racing KC HiLites Ford F-150 that carried Merritt to the 2006 championship with nary a sputter, or flat tire, thanks to some durable and reliable Goodyear Wrangler GSA tires.

"Actually, we haven't changed anything," said Chris Golding, who served as Merritt's on-board technician and navigator during all 1,630 miles raced in 2006.

"It's the same truck. All we did was spend the off-season tearing it apart, checking it from top to bottom, front to back," continued Golding. "If we found something that we felt we could improve, make stronger, or needed replacing, we did it. Then, we put it all back together."

The Mongo Racing team also found the time to work in some testing, and was pleased with the results.

"We're ready, that's all I can say," said Merritt. "Whether or not everybody is gunning for us this season, I can't control any of that. All I can do is get in and drive, and hope that we've done our homework, and whatever bad luck we might experience along the way will be outweighed by some good luck."

It all begins in Parker, in Merritt's own backyard, so to speak.

Parker used to be best known, perhaps, as the home of renowned desert racing champion, Manny Esquerra.

That was before Merritt added his name to the record book in 2006.

"Now we have two champions from Parker," said long-time Mongo Racing crew member Steve Draper.

Here, in the 2006 Bluewater Resort and Casino Parker 425, Merritt notched a second place finish. And although disappointed in not winning the race in front of the hometown fans, he used the race as a springboard to the championship.

"Yeah, we didn't win it, but what we learned at Parker we used to our advantage later on," said Merritt.

"That's not to say we'll be satisfied with anything else but first place this year, because we really, really want to win this one, the Parker 425. It would make a statement."

When the Best In The Desert Bluewater Resort and Casino Parker 425 gets under way on Feb. 3, Merritt will go to the starting line with a heavy heart after losing his father Roger Merritt, 11 days earlier to a sudden illness on Jan. 23.

"I don't know how he's going to do it, how he's going to get in that truck and be able to give it all he's got, Roger was his father and a part of the team," said Merritt's long-time friend and Mongo Racing crew member Steve Solaiza.

The answer is simple: Merritt is going to be on a mission, to win not only the Bluewater Resort and Casino Parker 425, but a second straight driving championship, dedicating it to his father.

"I know he'll be watching," said Merritt, "and I hope he likes what he sees; we'll be doing it for him."

Other than that, the veteran desert racer from Parker, Ariz., had nothing else to say about his loss. He chose, instead, to focus on the challenge ahead.

Randy Merritt and the Mongo Racing Crew will also be taking the green light with a heavy heart, Randy's father Roger passed January 23, 2007 after a brief unexpected illness took him.


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