PJ Merrill poses in Wiscasset Speedway’s victory lane after a podium finish. petespicks.smugmug.com

PJ Merrill’s senior year at Dirigo High School is fast approaching, but before his last lap through public school begins he’s trying to improve on his start to the delayed racing season at Wiscasset Speedway.

PJ Merrill competes in the 4-Cylinder Pro division at Wiscasset Speedway. Ken Minott photo

Merrill’s season debut saw him finish second-to-last in Wiscasset’s 4-Cylinder Pro division two weeks ago, despite feeling more prepared than ever to get behind the wheel.

“The first race of this year was incredibly disappointing for me,” the 17-year-old Canton native said. “With me being spun out and then spinning another two times was a huge bummer because each time I had driven from around last place to fifth or sixth and had gotten into an accident, which would put me back to last place each time. I am excited for this weekend, however. I’m ready to get it done and win a race.”

Merrill’s racing career began two years ago, but he’s been around the track since he was a baby. His father, Jeff, used to race. PJ Merrill said he was born in January 2003 and attended his first race in April of that year.

It was in late 2017 that the younger Merrill got his big break, when car owner Dayl Kaulbeck reached out to Jeff Merrill about PJ driving one of his cars.

“From then on it just kind of happened and we got the race car,” PJ Merrill said.


Unlike many young racers, PJ Merrill didn’t start out in go-karts. His first race in 2018 was his first time behind the wheel. Jeff Merrill said his son showed he was ready for the new endeavor, however.

“He’s such a smart driver, learned a lot from iRacing before he got in the car,” Jeff Merrill said. “He was up to speed his first race.”

In his rookie season, PJ Merrill scored three third-place finishes. He followed that up with a trio of runner-up showings and another third-place finish in his sophomore season last year.

PJ Merrill’s blue and orange No. 00 wheels around Wiscasset Speedway. petespicks.smugmug.com

With Wiscasset’s season delayed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Merrill had even more time to fine-tune his skills on his iRacing simulator.

“I was on iRacing way more this spring than I ever had before. With school being remote and us doing work online, I had all day and night to play iRacing,” he said. “I made a lot of new friends and grew closer to many competitors at the track, like (defending 4-Cylinder Pro champ) Dominic Curit and Max Rowe.”

Rowe is the grandson of Oxford Plains racing legend Mike Rowe, whose race car Jeff Merrill helps work on at Oxford Plains during PJ’s off weekends at Wiscasset.


PJ Merrill finished second to Max Rowe in last year’s season finale, giving him a good stepping stone for 2020. He then found virtual victory lane this spring when he won the inaugural race of the Maine iRacing Invitational Series.

“It was so cool for me to pick up that win in the Maine invitational league,” Merrill said. “It was truly awesome.”

The time behind the iRacing wheel made waiting for the Wiscasset season to start go by fast, Merrill said.

PJ Merrill in action for the Dirigo High School boys basketball team. Art Chamberlain photo

When he wasn’t on the simulator this summer he was working out to keep in shape for basketball season, which fuels his competitive spirit during the racing offseason.

“Basketball means a lot to me, it’s always been my getaway. I started when I was around five and haven’t stopped since,” Merrill said. “Around my freshman, sophomore year I really fell in love with basketball again.”

He was glad that his junior basketball season wasn’t affected by the pandemic because “that team was the most fun.”


“They made basketball wicked fun again, like when we played in rec leagues,” Merrill added. “Last year I made many close friendships with kids on that team, like Mateo Lapointe and Trenton Hutchinson. I am so thankful to have a team like that.”

Merrill is hoping that he has a senior basketball season. He’s optimistic he will, but admits he would be heartbroken if the season is shortened or canceled.

Until he really has to worry about that possibility, he has more racing in front of him — and redemption.

“I hold myself to a very high standard, so to have a race like (the season opener) was embarrassing,” Merrill said. “But we’re more than ready for this weekend.”

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