MEDLEN TRYING TO PUT TITLE BID BACK ON TRACK AFTER SLOW START Castrol SYNTEC Driver Seeking First Round Wins of Year GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Funny Car driver Eric Medlen faces a familiar scenario this week as the NHRA POWERade tour moves to...
MEDLEN TRYING TO PUT TITLE BID BACK ON TRACK AFTER SLOW START
Castrol SYNTEC Driver Seeking First Round Wins of Year
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Funny Car driver Eric Medlen faces a familiar scenario this week as the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Gainesville Raceway for the 37th annual ACDelco Gatornationals.
After first round losses at Pomona, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., the 32-year-old finds himself outside the NHRA POWERade Top 10 in a Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang that just six months ago was the hottest Funny Car on the circuit.
Once again, the former crewman finds himself at the start of a season playing catch-up. Thus it has been since he took over the SYNTEC ride from former series champion Tony Pedregon in 2004: slow start followed by a strong finish.
Last year, he was ninth in points at the mid-season break, then closed with a rush to finish fourth. Significantly, he's never won a race before July 24th.
"Our plan was to get off to a better start this year, it really was," Medlen said. "We talked about last year and how we probably lost a shot at the championship because we struggled early. But here we are again. It's not too late to fix it, but it is kinda frustrating because the guys work just as hard when you're not winning as they do when you are, probably harder."
The culprit is a familiar one. A year ago, the car lacked consistency early on because crew chief John Medlen, Eric's father, was changing over to a new engine and drivetrain combination. This year, it's been more of the same as the team has worked to adapt new technology developed in the off season.
"The results might not show it yet, but we've got a really fast hot rod," the younger Medlen said. "The deal is, you have to be consistent and that's where we've had a problem. With the competition as good as it is, you have to bring your 'A' game every round. If you don't, you're going home."
Despite the slow start, Medlen is encouraged by his father's past history at Gainesville, a track on which Pedregon drove the SYNTEC Ford to victory in 2002 and to the No. 1 qualifying position a year later.
That said, a new tire issue may slow the team's progress. This will be the first weekend for mandated use of the new Goodyear 2420 tire in both Funny Car and Top Fuel. Most teams, Medlen's included, chose to run the older, proven 4130 at the season's first two events.
"It's different," Medlen said of the new tire, "but we stayed over two days after Phoenix (and the CSK Nationals) to test on it. I know everybody's in the same situation, but it's just one more thing you have to deal with."
Nevertheless, Medlen knows that if he survive the first half of the season, he has a real chance to make up ground in the second half. Over the last 11 races of 2005, the once aspiring rodeo cowboy won three times and earned more points than any other Funny Car driver including series champion Gary Scelzi.
The former high school rodeo champion was preparing for a pro rodeo career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo when his dad called in 1996 to offer him a job as a mechanic at John Force Racing, Inc.
Although he had been waiting for just such an opportunity since his father first began working as a professional crew chief, first for unknown Rudy Toepke, later for such notables as Don Prudhomme and Chuck Etchells, the younger Medlen wasn't really sure about what to do. Camarillo helped him make the decision.
"Jerold said, 'well, you know, 80 per cent of World Champions in roping are 30 and older. If it doesn't work out, you can come back and this will always be here. But if you pass it up, it might not ever come around again, so you've got to take your chance."
Medlen did. Now he's trying to make the most of it.
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Notable: In races completed before the traditional mid-season break in July, Eric Medlen is 26-26 in head-to-head competition with no victories. In races AFTER the break, he is 37-18 with four wins.