The 17th season of Street Outlaws has brought a lot of new elements to the mix, and with it, a new driver. In addition to bringing back old favorites like “Kamikaze” Chris Day and Chris “Boosted GT” Hamilton, the hit television show added a fresh face with rising star Damon Merchant.
Showcasing his gorgeous 1968 Camaro, named “Rogue,” Merchant took little time racing his way onto the 405’s top 10 list. But while many fans may be seeing Merchant for the first time this season, he’s no stranger to the sport.
“We did a lot of mud drag races growing up,” Merchant recalls. “When I turned 16, I got introduced to drag racing from another local guy, and we started doing the local high school drags at Thunder Valley in Noble, Oklahoma. So I’ve been doing it off and on for the last 20 years or so. I did some index racing with the Camaro before I built it into what it is now. It was more like a 6.0 car. I wanted to do some heads-up stuff with it, and we just completely changed everything. I think the only thing I used was the roof and quarters on it. Other than that, everything is brand new on the car.”
That “brand new” car sits on an RJ Race Cars chassis, and is powered by a Jon Faubion (Faubion Motorsports) 548CI big block Chevy with a F3-121 ProCharger. His crew consists of his father (Roger) and wife (Lacy), as well as Craig Stephens, Mark Niebes, and Jared Rockhold. The car was built specifically for the street, but not necessarily to get on TV. As least not right away.
“Once I built the car, I took it out, tested it, and started kicking the bushes, trying to get a few big tire guys to race me, and they wouldn’t do it illegally,” says Merchant. “I started jumping into as many no preps as I could, just to get seat time, get the car dialed in. My second no prep was the Dirty South No Prep series in Odessa, Texas. We ended up taking out Birdman in the second round, and made it all the way to the finals. After that, we started getting a lot of phone calls to come to a lot of different no preps.”
Things continued to get better for Merchant, scoring victories at Street Car Takeover in Noble, Oklahoma; the Flashlight Shootout at Amarillo Dragway; and The Park After Dark flashlight start race in Wichita Falls, Texas – flagged by the legendary Chris “Limpy” Collins. Merchant’s streak of success did not go unnoticed.
“Once we started making a scene at some of the no preps, we got a call from Big Chief,” Merchant says. “I never sought out the list. I wanted to race a few people on it, but I didn’t want to be that guy knocking on the door all the time. I’m not that kind of person. They called me, and gave us a shot.”
That shot turned out to be a race against Kamikaze and the infamous Elco. Merchant won his spot on the list, although the race itself was overshadowed by Kamikaze’s horrific crash. Since then, Merchant has been a fixture on the show. Where fans may have noticed him missing, however, is the 64-car Mega Cash Days event. It was neither an oversight, nor a matter of the car not being ready; it was planned.
“The powers to be didn’t want us up there, because they were trying to debut us on the original 405 show,” Merchant says. “They didn’t want to show our car, or me, at Mega Cash Days, because they knew it was gonna air together.”
Midway through the season, however, the 405 show took a sharp turn. Gone was the list everyone had fought for years to be on. In its place would be a new top 20 “America’s List,” featuring top street racers from around the country. Merchant would once again be fighting to make the cut, this time on the same roads used for Mega Cash Days.
“I got a two-day notice to get to Nebraska,” says Merchant. “I thought I’d probably go up there and race Boosted or Shawn [Murder Nova], because we heard we were going to finish filming up there. As soon as they announced they were doing away with the list and only gonna take the top five cars, I was pretty excited. The way the car ran previously against Kamikaze, I felt like I legitimately had a top car. But once we got to running, I figured out real quick my car wasn’t set up real well for the road they were on. They had all been up there for a month testing. But I’m not one to make excuses. It was hard for me to get up there and race [Daddy] Dave right off the trailer, but it is what it is.”
Despite those struggles, and uncertainty in regards to which direction the show will go from here, Merchant says he will ready for any challenge they present. And he’s not content with just being there. As the “new blood” on the show, he plans to shake things up among a group of drivers that have been together for a long time.
“I feel like I bring a sense of urgency to those who have been a part of this list for so long, and have become complacent,” Merchant says. “There’s very few big tire cars that try to get on there and run with them anymore, because of how fast those guys really are. I think I bring in a fear that I can come in there and take somebody’s job. I really like this group of guys, but I’m here to be a top contender and have a number one car. Period.”
With filming about to start up once again, and a car built for the street, Merchant isn’t ruling out more no preps for 2021 as well.
“I’m looking forward to getting in as many as we can,” says Merchant. “I like doing the local and regional stuff here. I know we’ll make Armageddon – that’s in our back yard. I would like to do some of the No Prep Kings stuff if we can get the car to moving a little bit better.”