MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 2, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Zane Merrett had a 2016 season full of highs and lows; the Crowley, Texas native scored multiple podiums across the board throughout the past year, but he also struggled with different injuries that set back his progression over the course of the season. His spirit and determination is undeterred after ending the week at Mini-O’s with a crash that left him hospitalized and temporarily in a wheelchair. The EBR backed rider put in lots of hard work over the holidays to get back into race shape quicker than expected and came back strong at the Texas Winter Series. He dominated the first round of competition at Freestone Raceway by winning all six of his motos. We caught up with the KTM rider in the midst of his recovery to chat about the 2016 racing season, his program down at Underground Training Facility, and craving strawberry milkshakes.
First off, let’s start with the upside. You had a couple of good rides and solid podium finishes in both supercross and motocross at Mini-O’s. Could you talk a little bit about the positives you were able to draw from the week?
I ended up with a 2nd placein 250 B stock, and in my 450 B stock I ended up with a 5th, and 450 B mod I ended up with a 9th this year. Uhm, I’m feeling really comfortable on my 350 - I got a new KTM 350, and that’s what I rode in both 450 classes. So, yeah, that was super sick. Uhm, suspension and everything was just set up awesome on it. I really like the new layout, man. Mini-O’s is really, really sick; it’s probably one of the most fun nationals, just ‘cause you got the supercross side and the motocross side. And I’m really looking
forward to this new motocross track that they built also.
Yeah, the Diamondback track...did you get a chance to ride that on Saturday?
Unfortunately, we didn’t get there ‘till Sunday, so I didn’t get to ride it. But, I did go check it out. I went and walked it and stuff with my buds. It was pretty sick.
So, you rode your 350 in all the 450 classes, did you ride that at Ponca or was it your first time racing on it?
No, so we got my 350 a week before Mini-O’s and we just sent the suspension straight off to EBR, we got everything dialed up. And then two days before Mini-O’s, we went and tested everything, made sure everything was good. Made a couple changes in the rear...uhm, just because I’m a little lighter. So, I felt like we needed to speed the rebound up just some, ‘cause Mini-O’s is kind of high speed on the outdoors, so we made a couple changes. And then we went there...and yeah, I was ready. I mean...I got to ride it, like I said - twice - while
doing testing and I felt comfortable on it, went out there and kicked some butt.
So, you were still kind of dialing it in and fine tuning things throughout the week then, huh?
Oh yeah, for sure, man. The 350 was definitely something different. I’ve never ridden one like that before, it was way different than my 250.
What are some of the differences you notice between the 350 and the 450 since you’re racing it in that class? Do you think it gives you an advantage in some areas?
Oh yeah, for sure. So, lastyear I rode the 250 in the 450 classes and you could definitely tell the disadvantage on the start and down the straightaways right out of corners. And so on the 350, there’s really not much of a disadvantage, except maybe on the start a little bit...and maybe right out of some of them tight, tight corners. But, the advantage is that it handles just like a 250. And the way that we’ve got everything set up is identical to my 250 race bike. So, it handles the corners way better than a 450 would.
It’s a little bit easier hopping back between the 250 and the 350 throughout the week compared to the gap between the 250 and the 450, that makes sense.
Yeah, ‘cause we were gonna get a 450, but the 350 is just like the ideal, perfect bike. So, switching back I didn’t really feel too much of a difference.
You had a pretty nasty get off in your final race of the event...
Yeah, so what happened in that moto - it was the 450 B Mod class. I was running 4th place and I was passing for 3rd. And I was coming around the sweeper, ripping the outside and I was passing T.J. Albright. I guess the rollers were a little slick and the back end just kind of kicked out some, and I kind of lost it from there, so…
What sort of injures did you end up coming away with?
So, yeah. I was in the hospital for two days. I ended up tearing a couple muscles and ligaments in my lower back. When I crashed it knocked me out, and so when I came back to I noticed that I was leaning over the fence, I had my helmet off, and the medics were already there. They stood me up and I was leaning my body back over the fence, kind of breathing and stuff. And so, I noticed that in my right leg I had no feeling really. Like, I could kind of feel my toes, but I couldn’t move it. So, I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought I might of...uhm...broke my leg or something, because I still had a lot of adrenaline, but when I came back to from being unconscious, I just didn’t know what was going on with my right leg. And so when we finally got to the hospital, I mentioned that to the
surgeon when it was time to have surgery, and I mentioned it to all of my doctors and nurses during that time also. And so we did cat scans...and just all kinds of stuff to see what might of happened in my back...and uh, I thought I might have broke a vertebrae
‘cause I was in all kinds of pain. My back was hurting, my butt, my leg, my ankle...kind of everything, ‘cause it was rough - the crash - it threw me hard. So, finally right before they released me, they gave me some shots in my leg and we finally got where there was a little bit of feeling there. But, I still couldn’t walk. So...sadly, I exited the hospital still in a wheelchair and I was in a wheelchair when I got home, too. But, whenever Thursday came around, I was able to start movin’ my foot around slowly, and then the whole week I was doing nothing but physical therapy with my leg. And now...I’m not one hundred percent, but I’m there. It’s been three weeks...uh, so we’re good. I’m riding on Wednesday (Dec. 14th) back out here at Underground, getting ready for spring nationals.
You ended up having to stay in Florida for a couple of days. When did you end up making it back to Texas?
So, the crash happened Saturday...I was in the hospital Saturday night, Sunday night, and I was released Monday morning. Uhm, so when I got released Monday morning...it’s kind of cool ‘cause the doctor said be light on your food and stuff. Well, first thing I did...I was kind of craving a strawberry milkshake...so, we went to Sonic and I got me a strawberry milkshake, which was super good. But, the way home we had to stop again for my medicine halfway through, and as soon as we stopped my Dad’s transmission went out on his truck. So, the way home was an adventurous drive. We ended up not getting home until Wednesday. So, we were there Monday and Tuesday getting the transmission fixed and we finally got home Wednesday afternoon, and man was I ready to be home. I was ready to get back in my bed, and just hang out with my family.
Since you’ve got back, you’ve just been taking some time off and doing what you can to recover so you could get back on the bike as soon as possible?
Yeah, after Mini-O’s, I planned on taking two weeks off; hanging out with family, doing some cool stuff, I planned on going snowboarding with the Mashburns. Uhm, and also we got the Texas Winter Series comin’ up. So, I planned on this weekend starting back riding, y'know what I mean. I was gonna take two and a half, maybe three weeks off just to hang out...hang out with my family, go see some new family, and then get back to it. Uhm and...we were gonna show up at the Winter Series and have some fun there, ‘cause it’s a pretty big local race. Now, my plan is to just get back on the bike slowly and get some of my form back together, and then I’m gonna do a couple of the Amsoil Arenacross rounds, get my feet wet in that stuff, and then I’ll show up at the spring nationals.
You’re one of the premier riders down at Underground Training Facility in central Texas, could you talk a little bit about the program that Zak (Mashburn) has put together down there?
Oh yeah, so Zak has gone above and beyond with the whole setup down here...it’s so sick! So, there’s a handful of big bikes and a handful of little bikes. We got our own bike big session and our own little bike session. Every single day the tracks are sick - they’re rough, rutted, and just gnarly. And what we did before Mini-O’s was...we did a bunch of sprints. I think the sprint is what really helped me out for the motos down there, because they’re short motos, but they’re fast motos. Like the supercross...they’re short and fast, like they’re done. And so doing sprints, especially on these tracks like I said, like our corner tracks are just brutal. Then our outdoor track...I mean, everybody’s been to Underground and everybody knows how rough Underground gets - it’s just outrageous. So, being able to be fortunate enough to ride this track every single day, it’s just a dream come true. In summertime, he’s got it set up different from winter time, ‘cause in Texas, y'know, we don’t wanna ride in the morning ‘cause it’s super cold. Summertime: what we do is we wake up, we go on a morning run around 7:30, we come back and eat breakfast, then we do our motos, everybody does their school work right after motos, we’ll get the bikes and everything ready. We’ve got a pretty good time period for school and then to get our bikes ready. On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday we’ll do a road bike ride - about 30-35 mile road bike ride - it just depends on if we want to switch it up or which way we wanna go or something like that. And then on Wednesday, Friday, and if you’re still here Saturday, we’ll do a gym workout which is real hard...it’s about two hours long. We do a bunch of cardio during it, too. And then, y’know, we don’t do too much on the weight lifting just ‘cause we don’t believe in that.
What kind of role do you have in on the instructional side of things? Helping out the youngsters, etc…?
So, during the sessions we’ll do big bikes, little bikes, big bikes, little bikes. So, every once in awhile...me, Parker (Mashburn), Clay (Quick), and a couple other big bike riders will go out there and kinda ride with the little kids. Like, we’ll go out there and ride with slower supermini riders that aren’t in the big bike group, or the faster 65s...y'know what I mean, like kinda have some fun ourselves, but still kind of push them to their limits. Man, I gotta tell you what: these little kids that are coming up through the ranks, they are aggressive. They’re not scared of nothing and I think that’s really cool. That’s one thing you gotta be in this sport.
Obviously you put in a lot of work down there yourself, any specific plans to get ready for the spring nationals, and where can we expect to see you racing next?
So, I plan on getting maybe the northern...maybe the northeast ones done. Maybe Baltimore, South Dakota - those ones. Just to do it and have some fun, ‘cause I like that type of track. I like the arenacross setup. Kyle Regal’s down here, he trains with us, too. Him and Zak are our main trainers. And uh...Kyle also does a lot of off the bike training with road biking and jump stuff. So, it’s really cool to have an arenacross champion out there helping us, ‘cause we got the arenacross track, we got a supercross track, the outdoor track, and two corner tracks. Anything that you can think of, we’ve got it out here.
That’s a pretty unique opportunity to be able to learn from a former arenacross champion, could you talk a little about what it’s like to work with someone that has that sort of wealth of knowledge?
It’s really cool. We were kind of going back and forth between the supercross track and the outdoor track about a month before Mini-O’s. The supercross really changed this year at Mini-O’s: it wasn’t like it’s been in the past where it was more of an outdoor. This year it was actually more of a supercross; it has the full bowl corners, the triples, the double-double, boom, right there out of the corner. So, we rode the supercross track a bunch and the outdoor track. Whenever we ride supercross, we did a lot of training with Zak and Kyle.
Kyle really helped us out, ‘cause he knows the bowl corners real good, and where to start if you wanna seat bounce, and just how you want to exit the corner to get ready for the rhythm section, how we wanna place our body position, y’know.
Plans for next year? Classes you’ll be racing, etc…?
I’m gonna stay B class for one more year and then I’ll go pro right after Loretta’s. I’m staying B class for 2017, because I broke my femur and unfortunately I had to miss JS7, Cal Classic, Mammoth, and I just got healed up in time for the regionals, and then I won all of those.
So, the next national that everyone can expect to see you at will be Daytona?
Yeah, that should be the plan...Daytona, and Freestone, and then after that we’re gonna come back to the facility and get ready for Cal Classic. After Freestone, I might load up with Mashburn and go out to Cali just to prep, y’know, the tracks down there are a little different. It’s really cool for us, ‘cause the California tracks are more of like the drier, wide-open setup. Down here in Texas, we got good moisture in the dirt. It don’t matter if it hasn’t rained in a month or if it’s rained every single day, the tracks are gonna be gnarly.
Same deal next year with bikes and support?
I’m gonna be doing the KTM 250 and 350. I’ve got the EBR suspension and EBR moto setup for pretty much the whole of next year, which is sick.
Thanks for your time, man. Any other sponsors you’d like to shout out?
ANSR, SLM RACING, Scott, Dunlop, Illusive Gloves, Bell, Nihilo, EVS, FMF, ODI, ZMMX, Tamer Holeshot