For the last two years, racing in the Lucas Oil Off Road Series Pro-4 Division has been a completely new endeavor for Newport Beach Businessman Josh Merrell. In fact racing off road short course or any kind of motorsport is almost completely foreign besides a little dabble in late model circle track racing. Overcoming the tremendous learning curve has been difficult to say the least. Feeling out the dynamics and dealing with the variables of off road racing is one thing but maintaining the equipment and making it last while smashing it up with 15 other trucks besides you is a whole other deal all together. It is the difference between success and failure.
Since the 2011 season started it truly appeared that Merrell was coming around. His talent as a driver was shining through and he only needed to stay clean and keep the truck together to make consistent top 5 finishes.
Since the beginning, Premiere Motorsports Group provided all the resources and assets one could muster including mentors like Scott Douglas and Bill Johnson from Pro Fab Motorsports. The most recent equipment acquisition was a high caliber state-of-the-art Douglas Motorsports Pro-4 built by Pro Fab Motorsports in 2008. This new vehicle weighs 600 Lbs. less than the old PMG Pro-4 and as usual features a 900 HP ProPower Engine. Douglas Motorsports would support the Round 13&14 efforts with crew chief, mechanic and Scott Douglas spotting for Merrell.
During Fridays practice, which was also the first time driving the new truck, Josh proved to be 2nd fastest in the field. The last time this particular vehicle raced at the Las Vegas Track, Scott Douglas dominated the Pro-4 field, winning on Saturday and nearly swept the weekend but faltered on Sunday’s final laps due to a blown tire.
For Qualifying, Merrell would score the 3rd fastest lap time with a 1:07.673 nearly matching Carl Renezeder’s pace and slightly behind pole setter Kyle LeDuc.
The Las Vegas forecast called for a winter storm to move through the area, although the conditions were chilly, the weather seemed to hold out which felt like divine intervention. The opening ceremonies featured a special tribute to fallen hero and Pro-4 Champion Rick Huseman, with a moving video piece by Mad Media and the #36 Huseman Pro-4 leading the field around the track and no doubt warming the hearts of everyone in the packed grandstands.
With a 4 position inversion, Merrell would start from the front row on the outside of Todd LeDuc. As the green flag dropped, Josh powered ahead to the lead which soon turned into a near 20 truck cushion over 2nd place. By Lap 2, Carl Renezeder finally got by Todd LeDuc with Merrell still stretching the lead out. At this point the only thing that could hinder forward progress was a full course caution when Curt LeDuc flipped upside down in Turn 1.
After the truck was pulled off the track and the field collected for a restart, Josh would again pull ahead as the race leader. Renezeder, a viable contender in the 2011 Pro-4 Championship, used his driving precision to pour on the pressure and was all over the back of the #22 Hart and Huntington / MAV TV Truck. The mistake came when Josh’s foot slipped off the throttle in Turn 4 which would result in a complete roll over and landed back on the General Tires. Merrell immediately got back on the gas and the Grabbers found traction accelerating the truck forward and resuming the race in 4th position.
The Competition Caution soon came around less than 2 laps later. On the re-start Josh charged hard behind race leader Renezeder and the two LeDuc boys. As the laps trickled down Josh was able to drive around Todd on the white flag to assume the 3rd place position and would maintain to take his first podium finish also securing the fastest lap/speed of the race.
On the podium stage, Josh’s normally reserved demeanor came alive. “I am so stoked to finally be up here. I cannot thank everyone enough. We are so grateful to General Tire, Lucas Oil, MAV TV, Liquid Graphics, and LunarPages.com. A very big special appreciation goes out to my wife Kim, our family, Ryan & Erin Busnardo, Scot Demmer, Scott Douglas & his crew, and everyone at Hart and Huntington. Thanks for believing in us!”
Sunday’s Pro-4 Event would start out much the same but without Merrell’s hole shot to the front. As the first race after opening ceremonies the track conditions were rather sloppy. A field of Ten Pro-4 trucks would roar around the Las Vegas Track. As the group chased each other on Lap 1 heading through the rather tricky chicane, Merrell was eating a face full of mud from the traffic ahead. As Josh pulled a tear-off, another glob of mud found its way right back on to his visor leaving no vision and was forced to quickly pull another tear-off. By the time Josh was able to see, the #22 Truck’s right front wheel had slightly climbed up the chicanes inside K-Rail putting Merrell up on two wheels and into a spinning nose stand to cart wheel, nearly toppling backwards as it came to rest right side up. There was no get up in go left in the truck this time and Josh was feeling it as well. The Lucas Oil Off Road Safety crew was on the scene in no time and made quick work to assess that he was in good health. No stranger to crashing, Josh mentioned later “This one was probably a 8 on my scale.”
“The team morale is upbeat and we are looking forward to closing out the season on a positive note,” claimed Premiere Motorsports Group Team Leader Ryan Busnardo. “I dont think we would still be here if we did not have a competitive performance to offer. I really believe this team is capable. We are developing the drivers and putting in the work. I am looking forward to the future and following my strategy to get us there.”
Hart and Huntington Off Road is now undergoing preparations for Round 15 and aiming for a great finish in the Lucas Oil Challenge Cup. Make sure to share the Facebook Events with your friends and tune into Lucas Oil Off Road Racing on TV