SINCE MEDLEN LAST WON WIRE-TO-WIRE, QUALIFYING NO. 1 HAS BECOME A CURSE Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Driver Seeks First 2006 Win at Joliet JOLIET, Ill. -- The fact that he was the last Funny Car driver to win an NHRA national event wire-to-wire...
SINCE MEDLEN LAST WON WIRE-TO-WIRE, QUALIFYING NO. 1 HAS BECOME A CURSE
Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Driver Seeks First 2006 Win at Joliet
JOLIET, Ill. -- The fact that he was the last Funny Car driver to win an NHRA national event wire-to-wire gives third year driver Eric Medlen a unique perspective on the so-called "curse" that has sent the No. 1 qualifier home early at 17 consecutive races in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series including all nine this season.
"I think it's harder to win (from No. 1) now days because the field is only separated by a tenth of a second," said the driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang. "Sometimes in the past, No. 1 and No. 2 were separated by that much.
"The competition is just so close anymore. Guys used to be satisfied just making the show. Now they know if they get in, they've got a real chance to win."
Medlen, who won last August as the No. 1 qualifier at Brainerd, Minn., wasn't able to capitalize this year on No. 1 starts at Phoenix, Ariz., and Bristol, Tenn., but no matter where he qualifies this week, he likes his chances in the ninth annual CARQUEST Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
"We've made a lot of progress in the last two races," said the four-time tour winner and once aspiring rodeo cowboy. "We've changed a few things in the engine department as far as how we set the engines up and the parts we're using and it's made a big difference. The power level and the horsepower's still the same, but the tuning window's a lot wider. It's a little bit more forgiving now."
What that means is that crew chief John Medlen, Eric's dad, should be better able to adjust for changing weather and/or track conditions. Medlen identified the difference in track and weather conditions from Friday night to Sunday afternoon as another major contributor to the "No. 1 curse."
"So many times, No. 1 is (determined) Friday night, when the weather is cool and there's no sun on the track," Medlen said. "Then you go to race day, it gets warmer, the track gets hotter and then you're just one of the guys. You might wind up racing a car that qualified 12th because they missed the tune up on Friday night, but they ran really good in the heat. Well, if it's hot, who has the advantage? It's not very often that we race in Friday night conditions."
This week might be an exception, though.
"If it cools off, I think you'll see a few cars in the 4.60s," Medlen predicted. "Hopefully, we've got three of them (a reference to his Mustang and those of teammates John Force, the track and national record-holder at 4.665 seconds, and Robert Hight)."
So, what of the "curse?"
"There's no curse," Medlen said. "It's just racing and the team that does the best job overall, the team that sends a car down the track every time, they're gonna be hard to beat. That's the position we're trying to get to and I think we're close. This week, whether it's cool or whether it's warm, I think we've finally got a car that can race.
"You know the track's gonna be good. Both lanes are about even. I think you'll see some great racing and, hopefully, one of these Fords will come out on top."
In addition to his victory in Minnesota, Medlen also won from No. 1 last year at Seattle, Wash. His other two career wins came from No. 4 (Brainerd, 2004) and No. 6 (Memphis, 2005) starts.
Although he seriously contemplated a pro rodeo career, Medlen inherited his father's knack for "tinkering" on all things mechanical. He worked in his dad's machine shop as a youngster, studied mechanical engineering at Terra Technical Institute in Fremont, Ohio, and, after arriving at John Force Racing in 1996, built a custom "chopper" motorcycle from the ground up.
After working for a year on the SYNTEC car he now drives, Medlen spent seven seasons on the crew supporting Force's all-conquering Castrol GTX Ford. He was Force's surprise choice to fill the seat of the SYNTEC Mustang after the abrupt departure of Tony Pedregon.