01/06/2016 4:19PM

Harness: Aaron Merriman reflects on 2015

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Aaron Merriman led all drivers in wins with 873 in 2015.

Aaron Merriman focuses on one day at a time, which has led to some pretty good years.

The 37-year-old Ohio native is coming off a career-best harness racing season in 2015, capturing his first North American driving title and earning a personal-high $7.40 million in purses. His 873 victories last year were the most for a dash-winning champion since Tony Morgan’s 959 triumphs in 2008.

Merriman is one of only three drivers --- joining Morgan and Tim Tetrick --- to win at least 800 races in back to back years. In 2014, Merriman won 841 times, but finished six victories behind Ronnie Wrenn Jr. for the No. 1 spot. Over the past 10 years, Merriman has won an average of 618 races per season.

“I really take everything as a day-to-day thing,” Merriman said as he reflected on his 2015 campaign. “I take pride in what I do each day and try to do the best for who I drive for. (Winning the dash title) just shows the overall body of work for what you’ve done during the year.”

Merriman was the leading driver in North America in June 2010 when he broke both wrists and his left elbow in a racing accident that sidelined him for much of the remainder of the year. In addition to finishing second in wins in 2014, he was sixth in 2013, with 568, and fifth in 2012, with 605.

“It feels good to win the title because I’ve been close so many times,” Merriman said. “There are a lot of guys who can win a lot of races. They’re tough. If you go through just an average spell, or even if you’re doing above average and other people are doing excellent, that’s the way it goes.

“I’m proud of the year I had and being able to participate in many of the Grand Circuit races. People maybe see I can win some races. It feels good. Working as hard as I have the last few years, it’s something that you can say you did it for. I definitely appreciate it.”

Merriman, who frequently competes twice a day --- afternoons at The Meadows in western Pennsylvania and evenings at Northfield Park in northern Ohio, saw his Grand Circuit appearances in 2015 include the Breeders Crown, Hambletonian Oaks, Kentucky Filly Futurity, Tattersalls Pace, Hambletonian Maturity, Milstein Memorial, Elegantimage, Monument Circle, Carl Erskine Trot, and Allerage Open Pace.

“I’d like to continue to pick up Grand Circuit drives,” Merriman said. “Before, sometimes I wouldn’t take those chances. If I had one (Grand Circuit drive), I’d rather drive 16 (races elsewhere). That was my mentality. But last year I took those one or two drives just to get my name out there and to participate in our sport’s best events.

“If I have a goal, it’s to continue to compete on the Grand Circuit and hopefully do well. I really enjoyed traveling and going to those places. Just being around those kinds of events, with the owners and trainers, is special. I’m a people-person, so I like meeting new people and being around different people at times. I’m grateful for those opportunities.”

Merriman drove in 4,204 races in 2015, which was nearly 800 more than Corey Callahan, who was No. 2 on the list for driver starts. He drove in 4,646 races in 2014. He hopes to scale back a little bit this year, in part to enjoy more time with his family and travel.

But he says this much will remain the same --- when he is committed to drive, he will be there.

“Something has to happen for me not to show up,” Merriman said. “I think that helps me. Maybe I’m not the best, maybe I’m not this or that, but people know I’m going to be there. I’m not a guy who is going to say that if it’s inconvenient I’m not going to be there. I show up and I pride myself in that.

“It’s impossible for me to pick the highlight to any year. It’s just having the opportunity each day to do something I love to do. I’m just as happy, it sounds nuts, winning any race. I’m just happy to win the next one. There’s always a purse difference, I know, but winning never gets old. I’m happy just with the opportunity people give me to drive horses.”

He also is thankful for the support of his family and friends, particularly his father Lanny and longtime girlfriend Tessa.

“They are instrumental in my everyday life,” Merriman said. “My dad calls every day. I’m just like everyone else; I get down if I have a bad day or a few bad days. When you have people there to pick you up every single time, and knowing it’s sincere, you can’t beat it.”

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com