Three-wheeling Merchant overcomes strange night
and reigning series champion Kenny Merchant has seen plenty of things during
nearly 20 years of racing on the O'Reilly Southern United Professional Racing
tour, but even he was surprised by the turn of events during a Saturday heat
race at Champion Park Speedway.
Merchant, a 39-year-old racer from West Monroe, La., started fifth in the prelim
and raced his way into the lead, but he ran into trouble with a pair of slower
cars on the final lap at the quarter-mile oval.
"They got together and spun in front of us coming off of (turn) four at the
checkered flag," Merchant recalled. "It took (our) right rear and literally
broke the axle tube off the right rear the wheel came off. We managed to gas it
up and go to the checkered flag, spun it around and it nearly turned us over! We
still won the heat race somehow or another and lucked up.
"I don't think we have ever won a race without a right rear tire on the car. I
have won on a flat, but I haven't ever won without a tire, axle or nothing under
the car, so we accomplished a first tonight, I guess," Merchant added with a
laugh. "I have never gotten so many cheers here at Champion Park."
Merchant went on to capture the night's feature victory, his series-leading 54th
career O'Reilly SUPR triumph. But the heat race finish wasn't his last surprise
of the night. Because the damage from the accident broke his car's rear end,
Merchant needed helping making it through the rest of the night.
Merchant considered shuttling to fellow driver Jody Prince's nearby shop for
equipment to make repairs, but fellow driver Ray Moore offered Merchant a
complete replacement rear end.
"We had a whole rear end sitting here, so we went ahead and decided to put Ray's
rear end in," Merchant said. "I mean, Ray offered it to us, no strings attached,
just run it and if something happened or broke something on it, then we would
just replace it."
Whether the rear end would fit Merchant's car was another matter Merchant drives
a Trak-Star Chassis and Moore pilots a MasterSbilt Race Car and he was shocked
when it did.
"Luckily, by the grace of God, the birdcages were all the same," Merchant said.
"I don't know how, but they were the same spacings, everything about it was the
same unbelievably. We just bolted it under the car and we were just lucky, I
don't know how else you can put it. There is no way you get two different brands
of cars and it have the exact same rear end. Evidently mine and Ray's cars are
While Merchant entered 2010 in position to become the first driver to win three
straight SUPR championships, he's noncommittal about chasing series points
again, figuring "we are going to just jump around probably this year." Besides
planning to run other non-SUPR regional events, Merchant has dabbled with
paved-track racing at Monroe Motor Speedway.
Merchant skipped the previous weekend's SUPR doubleheader at Baton Rouge (La.)
Raceway and Pike County Speedway in Magnolia, Miss., races he'd normally attend.
He's not in the top 10 in series points, so a title run would take some doing
for his long-time car owner and sponsor J.D. Caver.
"It depends on J.D.'s health," Merchant said. "He is my main sponsor and that is
where I work and I am trying to do more at the shop which is another reason why
we missed Baton Rouge and Pike County last week.
"We were wide open there last week and I still didn't feel good. We were so busy
at the shop that I just didn't have the car ready. I also had an oil pump
started leaking (on the race car at the shop), so something was telling us that
we don't need to go.
"We are probably going to run a lot of SUPR races. I love dirt racing, I like
going over to the concrete track (to run his ASA-style pavement late model) in
Monroe, but that is more of a hobby and have fun deal when we go there. It is
not the pressure that we put on ourselves at the dirt (tracks).
"Nobody has won (SUPR championships) four times, and nobody has won it three
times in a row. It would be pretty cool to do it, and it is a great series. I
love running it, it is close to home and it is about all I can really afford to
do. We also enjoyed two weeks ago when we ran those two World Of Outlaw races in
Texas. Running those type races makes us better for when we run the SUPR races.
It makes you a better racer. You just have to be on your game just to make the
races in the WoO and Lucas (Oil).
"We will definitely do the Lucas Series when they come to Columbus, we will
probably do the Topless (100) in Batesville (Ark.) this year. The last couple of
years, we haven't had an open motor to go run any of them shows. We finally got
an open motor. J.D. stepped up and helped us get our open motor fixed again,
Ronnie Rogers down at Wall 2 Wall (Performance Engines) also helped us. We feel
like we got a real good open motor to run with them guys. We don't run with
(national tours) enough. We have to be on our game and to go run with them,
means you have to pretty much dominate here."
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