Zane Merrett has made a name for himself this summer with several top-20 rides on his privateer TPJ KTM. It’s his rookie pro season, as the Texan skipped his final A year at Loretta’s to turn pro and make a run at the sport. But during the week, Zane has to fit training and practice in between working a regular job. No matter, he’s determined to make this work and thinks he can open enough eyes during supercross next year to get a factory deal at some point.
We talked to him during the tear down of the TPJ tent Saturday at Budds Creek. Also, check out this group chat with Zane and other privateers from earlier this summer.
Racer X: First of all, you’re here tearing the tent down for TPJ. Where are the other riders?
Zane Merrett: They already hit the plane. It’s 7:30. It’s actually 7:22. [Adam] Enticknap time! But we’re still here, me and Ethan Mann, who came out here to help me out this week and the other mechanic. We’re just getting everything torn down and getting ready to head home.
Ethan Mann, who races Loretta’s and is fast, was your mechanic today?
Yes, sir. He came from Quick’s Moto Ranch. He’s been training out there with Kyle Regal, getting ready for Ponca and the next race will be Mini Os. I was like, “Hey, man. Do you want to come out and help me this weekend?” He’s like, “Heck yeah. That’s an experience I’ve never had. Let’s do it.” He’s actually still tearing down right now and he’s going above and beyond. A lot more than I asked for, so it’s awesome.
Let’s talk your career trajectory. You were up front in your class at Loretta’s last year, but you didn’t get the title.
Nope. I ended up second overall.
Which class was that?
It was 450B Limited.
Why did you not run A class this year?
I ran A class for half the year, and then after JS7 [Spring National at Freestone in Texas] what we were looking at budget-wise and for my future. I’m 20 years old right now, so my parents decided, let’s just go ahead and go pro. We’ll line up at Hangtown. I lined up at Hangtown this year half ready. Fitness ready, bike not ready. Suspension wasn’t ready, motor wasn’t ready.
Your results have improved in the second half, for sure. So did the bike get better?
Yes, absolutely. We made motor switches. We made suspension switches. We’ve done everything that you can do, to our capability and financial-wise, we’ve done. We’re really close to the end of the season right now, so everything is kind of breaking apart. Everything is kind of going scattered right now, but from the second round at Pala, the results started… Actually, every race the results have gotten better. So Hangtown, I didn’t know where I was going to sit. My goal honestly, I didn’t really have too big of a goal or high standards. My goal was just to qualify. Then that second moto I fell in the mud with [Chase] Sexton. I hit his rear wheel in the third corner after the tabletop. I came from dead last all the way to 12th, and then fell with [Shane] McElrath. I was down for minutes, and then I ended up 22nd. So that was the career best, but obviously it was because that was the first race because I’m a rookie. I was mind-blown what I could do. Yes, it was muddy, but still. These guys, it’s not their first time racing in mud.
So it’s gotten better. Because of the bike, or are you learning things too as you go?
I’m learning. It’s a big stepping stone. The bike has definitely helped me out a lot. We made a bunch of changes throughout the season, like I said. They’ve all been really good. Unfortunately, I pretty much got KO’d at Millville. I looked like an owl! My whole face was hurting!
Dude, and you were running good.
Yes, sir. The first moto I was running eighth the whole moto. Crashed four or five times two laps to go. Ended up 13th. Second moto I had a great start. Like, a phenomenal start. I was in fourth place and then just got smoked by a tire. It was [Jacob] Hayes. Hayes’ tire killed me!
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Very fortunate to walk away from @scmxpark this weekend Q12th Ran 8th the whole first moto untill last two laps fell a few times finished 13th CAREER BEST... and then off to a awsome start on moto 2 and then it was over... nothing I could do, just glad god was watching over me?????? we’re safe super sore and cut up but there’s tomorrow??????
What were the emotions like when you were rounding that first turn? You must have been like, there’s no one in front of me! I’m going to start fourth! You must have been so stoked.
Yeah, yeah. So there was nobody in front of me because I had the inside, and they all drifted. But when they drifted, I had to shut off. They didn’t shut off. When they came back around, he just overshot that roller too much and washed out the front. It happened so fast there was nothing I could do.
Was there a moment two seconds before that where you were like, this is awesome?
I was like, I got the holeshot. Two seconds of glory.
So how bad were you hurt? Because you showed up and kept racing.
So we went to the Asterisk medical crew. They took probably three or four X-rays of my neck and my collarbone, a little bit of my back. He was mind-blown because he was right there, actually, when it happened. He was the first person to me. It could have been so much worse. The only thing I was worried about was my lip because it was cut in three spots, and they swelled up instantly. That and my forehead had a nice little cut.
But you remember everything?
I remember everything. I remember the lenses flying off. I remember it all. It was crazy. The scariest part was whenever I took my helmet off, I kind of passed out. I remember not completely blacking out, but I remember falling without tripping or nothing. I just fell. I think that was just because of the rush.
Like the shock of it all?
Yeah. I got hit by Mike Tyson, pretty much.
It was an uppercut. It was a straight-up uppercut.
One hundred percent. I didn’t ride all that week. I went to [the chiropractor] two times. I didn’t work. I didn’t ride. I didn’t do nothing. I just tried my best to recover because as a privateer, I’m trying to get on the rigs. I’m trying to prove myself, so that next weekend—we didn’t have a weekend off, I showed up at Washougal and I wasn’t a hundred percent ready, but I kept telling myself, you’ve got this. Be confident. Look at the positive side. You’re still here. You’re racing. But, Washougal, it was absolutely horrible. I’m not going to lie. I still struggle with a couple symptoms. Throughout the moto I get tired now and my head starts to pound a little. It hurts. This off-season we’re going to let everything recover. We’ll be a hundred percent for supercross and we’ll be ready.
So you’re doing supercross, one way or another?
Yes, sir. East Coast no matter what.
Tell me about this program with you and Regal at Underground? What’s your plan to get supercross dialed?
[Laughs] Well, if I tell you about it then everybody’s going to know!
But you’re confident you can get this dialed?
Yes, sir. I believe in Kyle and in Mashburn too. Kyle has really been working with me a lot lately. He’s definitely got me ready for outdoors. I’ve proven myself multiple times getting a 13th, a 16th and a 19th and two 20s. I believe I have 20 to 21 points. So I’m on the bubble of having a pro number for next year. Then for supercross we’re going to take a little off-season and then we’re going to get back to it. I’m going to do East Coast. One reason I’m going to do East Coast because relatives, family. I’ve always been used to East Coast dirt. I don’t want to go West Coast to whole new dirt, tracks.
Are you originally of Texas?
Yes, sir. Born and raised Fort Worth, south of Dallas. East Coast is harder, but we’ll be ready. I’m confident. I don’t know what I’m doing bike-wise or team-wise or anything, but I’ll either do it on my own or we’ll be with TPJ.
Or if somebody calls, you’ll be glad to pick up the phone.
I kind of want to prove myself. Honestly, I don’t want to just jump at the first offer. I would like to earn it. If they sign me as a fill-in, sometimes fill-ins do end up getting full rides, but if you get a fill-in and you got to switch bikes, switch suspension, switch everything, and then you don’t do as good. Where if you’re on your own stuff, you’re testing at home, you’re getting everything dialed. If you go kill it, then you earned it instead of just a fill-in. But like I told you a while ago, mid-season next year we’ll have a deal for outdoors. I’m confident.
You’re confident you’ll be riding for a team next year outdoors?
Yes, sir. I’m really confident because I put my name out there for outdoors. A couple people knew me from amateurs in this sport. Steve Matthes, he had no clue who I was.
He doesn’t know any amateurs, bro. He probably thought you were born maybe a couple days before Millville. You didn’t even exist.
Right! So they mainly started talking about me after my performance at Hangtown and Colorado [Thunder Valley]. A little bit between that, because of Daniel Blair. At Hangtown he was like, “This kid, long hair, came from last. Killed it, fell, and then came back and killed it again.” So he kind of brought it up, and then Steve hit it and then you kind of talked about it. Everybody kind of talked about it. Then they built my fans up.
The problem is how much of these guys are just using you for fantasy purposes? I think you might just be a pawn in their game.
Yeah, you’re right. But Dan Truman also knew me from amateurs and he’s talked to me a few times at these races, outside fantasy purposes.
Listen to Episode #120 of the Main Event Moto Podcast, around the 2:02:08 mark, where Daniel Blair, Producer Joe, and Chris "Cooksey" talk about Merrett.
Truman? He’s like the fantasy master. Are you sure he’s not just using you for points?
He’s not. It’s actually kind of cool. Talking about fantasy real quick, there’s people that have no clue who they are and they come up and they’re like, “You killed it. You earned me awesome points.” At first, I had no clue what they were talking about until Florida. I’m like, oh, they’re talking about points. I’m doing good and these guys are picking me for points because I’m very consistent, top-20 kind of guy.
The real key is to have someone that no one’s heard of kill it, because then you come in with a high handicap and then you overshoot what everybody thinks. So you’re the perfect guy for that. We know [Eli] Tomac is going to do well. We need surprises like you.
[Ken] Roczen surprised me a hundred percent. That was awesome.
At the opener?
Unadilla. The opener too. That was awesome.
Unadilla was ridiculous.
He’s my favorite rider. Him and Blake Baggett. I like Blake a lot. He’s like my number one guy, but Roczen is also there. It was kind of cool. With Blake I did the Baggett Launch at JS7.
The jump into the whoops?
Yeah, the wall jump. That was my last year racing it so I had to do it. He was the only one to do it as a pro, and I was the only one to do it as an amateur.
Have you ever spoken to these guys?
Yeah. I actually talked to Blake a little bit. I’ve never talked to Roczen.
So weird. There were fans that got autographs today, but you as a professional racer…
Oh, I’m a fan.
From that perspective, you’re just a fan like anybody else.
Yeah. I’m sure he wouldn’t know who I was if I walked up to him. Now Baggett, his mechanic, Austin [Kent], works for him full-time and he knows because he’s worked for me back on superminis. So it kind of works out cool. So Blake kind of knew me a little bit and I talked to him a little bit.
Did you tell him about the jump?
I did. He commented on my Instagram.
Nice! Blake does nothing on social media. That’s a big deal!
I know! I heard.
Overall, you’re not bumming. You feel like you’re taking the right steps and this will come together in due time?
Yes, sir. Time takes its own.
I feel like the story everyone wants to tell about the privateers is that their lives suck because they don’t make money and don’t have the best bikes. But then every rider I meet tells me how much fun this is!
It is! I mean, I could just be doing a regular job full time. This is fun. I work during the week but I get to race my dirt bike on the weekends. I can’t complain.