MEDLEN AIMS FOR IMPROVEMENT IN RETURN TO BRISTOL DRAGWAY No. 1 Qualifier a Year Ago, SYNTEC Driver Wants More BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The record book shows that Eric Medlen was the No. 1 qualifier at last year's O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley ...
MEDLEN AIMS FOR IMPROVEMENT IN RETURN TO BRISTOL DRAGWAY
No. 1 Qualifier a Year Ago, SYNTEC Driver Wants More
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- The record book shows that Eric Medlen was the No. 1 qualifier at last year's O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway, but the third year driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang says things aren't always what the seem.
"There's perception and there's reality," Medlen said. "The perception is that we qualified No. 1 (last year) so we should have a pretty good handle on things. The reality is that we only got down the track once.
"That was good enough to get the Skoal money (a $4,000 bonus that accrues to the top qualifier at each stop on the NHRA POWERade tour), but not much else.
"My dad (crew chief John Medlen) didn't really have a lot of data to tune off of. We just went up there and took a shot. I think we won a round, but that was all."
Medlen, a four-time tour winner for John Force Racing, is hoping for a little more in this week's sixth renewal, beginning with Friday qualifying.
"Running those big numbers in nighttime qualifying, that's good for your ego," said the once aspiring rodeo cowboy, "but to win on this circuit, you have to be able to run in the heat. This year, I think we have a car that can do that."
Medlen's current car is a distant cousin to the one he brought to Thunder Valley a year ago. They're both Ford Mustangs, both owned by John Force and both sponsored by Castrol SYNTEC.
But that's where the similarity ends.
A modified slip-tube chassis is now beneath the 32-year-old and a new 2006 Ford Mustang body surrounds him. The 7,000 horsepower engine that sits almost in his lap has been beefed up, too, with new internal parts and pieces manufactured in- house under the scrutiny of his father, who also manages the team's machine shop operations in Yorba Linda, Calif., and Brownsburg, Ind.
"Everything my dad is doing seems to be working," Medlen said. "This is a fast hot rod."
Indeed, he broke the 4.70 second barrier in pre-season testing (at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and just missed the 4.60s in qualifying No. 1 at Phoenix (4.707 seconds). That said, he rolls into Bristol winless on the season and only seventh in NHRA POWERade points.
"To win in this series, with as many good teams as they are, takes the whole package," Medlen said. "We've got most of the pieces, but we have a lot of new crew members and it takes time to teach them how we do things -- and why.
"The difference in winning and losing in drag racing is thousandths of a second and that's the difference between doing things exactly right and doing them nearly right," Medlen said. "It's paying attention and it's pride. That's what you have to have."
Medlen knows what he's talking about. He himself was a crewman on Force's all-conquering Castrol GTX® Funny Car, serving first as the supercharger technician and later as the clutch specialist on a team that won 48 races in his seven seasons.
It is because of his background that Medlen can become so frustrated by simple maintenance errors.
"Over the years, we've had a lot of different problems (at JFR) and we have (initiated) at lot of different checks and balances, even on brand new parts. We already (had a situation this year where) somebody assumed that because it was a new part, it was fine -- and it wasn't."
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Eric has a nickname for the Castrol SYNTEC Ford he drives for John Force Racing. He calls it "Montecore" after Siegfried and Roy's infamous white tiger, because he knows the car can be his best friend, but he knows that it also can bite him, too.
Eric abandoned a promising pro rodeo career to take a job as a mechanic at John Force Racing in 1996. At the time, he was being tutored by two-time PRCA world champion Jerold Camarillo, with whom he already had partnered in several team roping events.
Eric never has won a race before July 24th. All four of his NHRA tour wins, including his three 2005 victories, were rung up after that date.