MEDLENS HOPE TO CELEBRATE WIN IN RETURN TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY Eric Goes from Diver to Driver of Castrol SYNTEC Ford ATLANTA, Ga. -- The Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals, contested this week for the 26th time at Atlanta Dragway, was...
MEDLENS HOPE TO CELEBRATE WIN IN RETURN TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY
Eric Goes from Diver to Driver of Castrol SYNTEC Ford
ATLANTA, Ga. -- The Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals, contested this week for the 26th time at Atlanta Dragway, was the first race in which John and Eric Medlen, the father-and-son team responsible for the performance of the 7,000 horsepower Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, celebrated together in an NHRA winners' circle.
The year was 1996 and the younger Medlen was the "diver," the crewman whose job it is to work beneath the engine during between-rounds maintenance, on the SYNTEC Funny Car driven by Tony Pedregon.
This week, if he gets back to the winners' circle, he'll do so as the driver of an updated version of the very same SYNTEC hybrid, one in which he set a Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway quarter mile track record (4.755 seconds) last week while qualifying No. 1 at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals.
A four-time winner in his first 52 races as wheel man for John Force Racing, Inc., Medlen still can't believe he's driving one of the world's quickest and fastest race cars.
"It still seems like a dream sometimes," acknowledged the 32-year-old former high school rodeo champion. "John (Force) could have put anybody in the car. I mean this is the car that won the championship (in 2003). So for me to get the opportunity was unbelievable, really."
Force's unexpected response to Pedregon's abrupt departure after winning the NHRA POWERade championship was roundly criticized until Medlen won a race as a rookie and finished fifth in the Funny Car driver standings. He improved in his sophomore season, winning three races and finishing fourth, just behind Force.
Nevertheless, Medlen didn't just graduate from diver to driver.
The seven years in between were spent working on Force's Castrol GTX entries, first as a supercharger specialist and later as the clutch technician.
"Eric's done the job for us," Force said, "but when I put him in the car I didn't really know what he was going to do. When Tony left, (John) Medlen took it pretty hard because they had been together for eight years. I thought if I put Eric in the car, it'd fix his dad plus I knew he was loyal. He was like family."
The unconventional strategy could not have worked out any better. Because of Medlen's success, Force confronted very little resistance the following year when he opted to fill the vacancy in the cockpit of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford with another former crewman, Robert Hight.
"If Eric hadn't done what he did," Force said, "then Robert probably wouldn't have gotten a chance. It's not just about hiring who I want. It's about working with your partners. The driver represents the sponsors to it's important to them who you put in these cars."
Medlen, who never had driven competitively before Force put him in the car at a test session in 2003, has proven to be a natural, due in some part to th fact that he drove go-karts and shifter karts which he believes helped give him a seat-of-the-pants "feel" for the race car.
He also benefitted from having his father as the crew chief.
"We didn't have to go through that awkward time where you feel each other out and try to figure out what to say and when to say it," said 2004's top Funny Car rookie. "We've always been able to talk so it just came naturally. Plus I know I don't have to worry about the race car."
The main thing missing from Medlen's resume is a championship, but he's not desperate to get one.
"We've won nine championships since I've been here and John makes everyone feel like they were a part of each one," Medlen said. "Bedsides, I'm just 32. John didn't win a race until he was 38 and he's done okay."
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Eric's for the Castrol SYNTEC Ford is "Montecore" after Siegfried and Roy's infamous white tiger. His dad explained: "Eric knows the car can be his best friend, but he knows that it can bite him, too."
Eric abandoned a promising pro rodeo career when he took 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 was a high school rodeo champion while attending high school in his hometown, Oakdale, Calif.