Anyone who knows me well, knows I have an unhealthy obsession with Honky Tonk Country Music. As I spoke with Josh Merritt today, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite lyrics.
“Memories cost a lot, when you don’t make em’.”
-Whitey Morgan and the 78’s
Josh is making sure he’s living a life full of memories and meaning. Between starting his own business and his constant pursuit to better himself on and off the track as the years go by, he’s become a shining example of what it means to be an ambassador of the sport.
GNCCRacing.com: Josh, thanks for joining me today. Have you recovered from the banquet?
Josh Merritt: Thanks for having me. Yeah, things are back to normal now after the banquet. I didn’t get too crazy.
To get us started, let’s go way back to the beginning. What got you started riding and eventually racing ATVs?
My dad used to race three wheelers and eventually four wheelers before I was born. He kind of got out of the racing scene, kind of hoping we wouldn’t get into it. That didn’t last very long. My sister got a PW50 and when I was old enough, I had an LT80. Eventually we both started racing our local series, CRA. We raced that for probably five or six years. Walker Fowler actually told us about GNCC. Our first GNCC was the John Penton which was about three hours from us.
What was your first GNCC like?
Actually we had no clue what to expect. We ended up parking on Pro Row, simply because we had no idea where to go. Big John kicked us off of Pro Row, obviously. We raced that day and I ended up third in the class and fourth overall. Ever since then we’ve had a fire under us, and I don’t think we’ve missed a round of racing since I turned 16. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve loved every minute of it.
You’re coming off your best season as an XC1 Pro. How are you feeling about heading into 2022?
Yes, this has been my best year as an XC1 Pro. I came away this year sixth in the nation. As a kid I saw myself going Pro, but I never really saw myself better than a top ten guy. So to come away sixth in the series, that’s huge for me. The season started off a little rough. The quad and my fitness just where I needed it. I was down training with Hunter Hart, and I had an issue with my quad. So I sat out two weeks while I was down there. I was training off the bike but wasn’t getting that seat time like the other guys. I think that showed early in the season for me. As the season progressed, I got stronger and started riding better. I finally felt like I had the mindset that was missing earlier in the year. Finishing the season with a fifth place felt good too. To be out there battling with Chris (Borich) and Jarrod (McClure) was huge for me. The mindset moving into next season is to run for top five consistently.
The fifth place finish at Ironman, is your best finish as an XC1 Pro. Think you can crack into the top three in 2022?
That’s the goal, I’d like to get a couple. I think next year will be one of the most competitive seasons we’ve ever had. Obviously, Walker Fowler is going to do his thing, Hunter Hart finishing in second is amazing, and you’ve got Devon Feehan coming on late last season. Add in the success Glauda had at Ironman, leading that one for much of the race. And Brycen Neal coming back. It’s going to be a very tough season. It very well could come to who’s the most consistent. Who’s finishing every race. We’ve got to the point where you can’t have a DNF. It’s important to finish every race. I know that was part of my success this past season. I had the goal of making sure I finished every race, and I did that. Also, if I can win, I’m retiring. Unless my sponsors make me keep running, but I’d love to go out on top.
You recently went out west with Hunter Hart and joined Johnny Gallagher for a WORCS race in Nevada. How did that go?
Yes, that was awesome! I drove out there with Hunter Hart. It was 34 hours from my house, about 40 for Hunter. Let’s just say he got an oil change before he left, and he needs another one now that he’s home. It was a blast, we got to ride at Sand Hallow. Kory Ellis has two Yamaha RMAX and we got to take those things out after we got done riding for the day. I’m not used to being about to ride all day long like this. Being out there riding 50 miles and never seeing someone, doing rock climbing, and blasting through the sand was amazing. I’ve been out to Nevada a couple times, but I was young, it was nothing like this. That was an experience I will hang onto the rest of my life. Racing WORCS was a ton of fun too. The Pros out there welcomed us with open arms. The promoters kind of set it up as an East VS West Showdown. It was Hunter, Johnny (Gallagher) and me. We did really well. I finished the race in fourth just behind Hunter. I couldn’t ask for a better experience. The quads were flawless the entire time, we did have Mark Notman out there with us to make sure everything ran smooth. I actually went into it with a have fun mindset, but after I finished fourth, I was a little upset I finished just off the podium. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized, I don’t even have a fourth place in GNCC, so I really can’t be that mad. Honestly, just having the opportunity is amazing. I know a guy like Walker Fowler has a ton of opportunities, so for me to get some opportunities like that, I cherish those moments. We had some sponsors kick some money in for hotels and gas money. GBC helped us out and some other friends along the way gave us a place to stay too. I couldn’t do all these thins by myself, so knowing I have people and sponsors looking out for me is great. I get to keep the memories and tell my kids about it someday when I’m old.
What’s the training plan look like in the offseason?
The goal is to head down south and train with Hunter Hart at Croom. I believe Action Offroad is looking into an Air BnB for us that’s close to Croom. In the meantime I’m training CrossFit. I don’t want to head down until I have two bullet-proof practice quads ready, so I don’t run into what I did last offseason where I had a down bike and missed out on valuable seat time.
What do you do for work?
I actually started my own business a couple years ago. I own my own boat repair shop and storage in Norton, Ohio. We do a lot of shrink wrapping and winterizing. We’re hoping to eventually get into some sales.
When you’re not racing, working, or training, what do you do fun?
I do three things for fun. One just got introduced to me, hunting. I went with my friend Ben Easterling. I got my first ever deer, an eight-point buck. This was such a cool experience I was able to check off the bucket list of things I wanted to do. It’s something I can see myself doing every year moving forward if nothing else to put some meat in the freezer. Probably my favorite thing to do is fish, I love fishing. I live by a group of smaller lakes and I love bass fishing. I’ll take my girlfriend or my dad. I try to get good enough at it that when someone comes with me, they can enjoy catching fish instead of just casting a line and fishing instead of catching. The third thing is golf. I got into it right out of high school, but I didn’t really try getting good until this past summer. Bought some new clubs, the Walmart brand clubs just weren’t getting it. I don’t know if I actually improved my game any but at least I look better than I did. I play with some guys from high school. Golf is one of those things where you’re constantly progressing and trying to get better. Kind of like racing, I guess that’s why I like it. I love trying new things I haven’t experienced before.
What’s your best memory racing?
Getting #6 this season at GNCC is one of my top memories, for sure. I’ve also been able to race in France at PDV. For those unfamiliar, it’s a 12 hour race with one quad and three riders. That whole race is one of the highlights in my life. I’m hoping to do it again soon. The last couple years it’s been closed down because of COVID. The Heartland Challenge win was a major one too. Matthew Blankenship, John Glauda, and I tried winning it a few years ago and came up short. Sadly, Matthew passed away last year before Ironman. This year, Hunter Hart, John Glauda, and I went out with the goal of winning it for Matthew. We lapped everyone and we made sure we won. One of the best highlights in racing for me. That’s not one I’ll ever forget.
Did you ever finally try the banana whiskey at the banquet?
You know what, I smelled it. That’s it. Kenny (Shick) brought it up to the room and I almost threw up just at the smell. I’m glad I didn’t drink any, because I would have been up all night with you guys. I went to bed fairly early compared to most and watched a movie then called it a night before I got too rowdy. I had a blast at the banquet though. At one point I was the only one on the dance floor. There is a video on my phone of me dancing by myself. I think people forgot how to dance after being stuck at home so much last year. Next year we’ll make sure everyone is on the dance floor.
Who would you like to thank?
BNR Motorsports, GBC, Action Off-Road, Fly Racing, SSI Graphics, Houser Racing, HMF Exhaust, DP Brakes, Precision Racing, Moto Seat, HVG Trucking, Scott Goggles, Hinson, and Yamaha.