by Frank Carulli
January 15, 2019
Aaron Merriman, who commutes 270 miles on most days to drive at two tracks, said at some point that “the grind … gets to you.”
He did not specify when that happened.
Truth be told, Merriman handled his busy schedule by piling up more record numbers in 2018. He won 1,141 races while competing primarily at the The Meadows in Pennsylvania in the afternoon and Northfield Park in Ohio at night. He won his 10,000th race in March, his fourth consecutive North America dash title and became the first driver ever with back-to-back 1,000-win seasons.
He finished third with $10.5 million in earnings, trailing only $200 million career earner Tim Tetrick (13.5 million in 2018) and last year’s winner Yannick Gingras ($11.7 million in 2018).
Merriman won his sixth Northfield Park title, overshadowing Ronnie Wrenn Jr., who finished in the Top 12 in three national categories – wins (2nd, 728), earnings (12th, $6.7 million) and UDRS (9th).
George Napolitano Jr., the leading driver at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania, finished third with 665 wins and won his first Breeders’ Crown race on trotter Homicide Hunter.
Jason Bartlett enjoyed another blockbuster season, winning his eighth Yonkers Raceway title en route to $100 million in career earnings and Top 10 national rankings in wins (6th, 523) and purses (5th, $9.6 million). Bartlett started this year where he left off, sweeping both $44,000 feature races at Yonkers last Saturday.
Hall of Famer David Miller added $9.8 million in earnings to hold down the No. 2 spot all-time ($232 million) behind John Campbell. Miller was the regular driver for leading Horse of the Year candidate McWicked.
Pompano Park leader Wally Hennessey posted a 1275/382-216-177 record, good for a .440 UDRS that led everyone with 500 or more starts.
Ohio native Dan Noble, the 2012 dash champion, finished fifth with 546 wins and he won the $25,000 North America Drivers Championship at Miami Valley Raceway last week to ring in 2019. Noble, who grew up 25 miles from the track, won with Desire’s Lady ($18.40) and finished in the money four times in the final day, eight-race competition.