Rookie-of-the-Year Candidate Eyes CARQUEST Title JOLIET, Ill. (Oct. 1-3) -- In his "other life," as an aspiring rodeo cowboy, Eric Medlen knew that his calf roping success depended upon his ability to get the most out of his horse, a cow...
Rookie-of-the-Year Candidate Eyes CARQUEST Title
JOLIET, Ill. (Oct. 1-3) -- In his "other life," as an aspiring rodeo cowboy, Eric Medlen knew that his calf roping success depended upon his ability to get the most out of his horse, a cow pony named Little Rock.
"You have to know each other well enough so you can anticipate everything," Medlen said. "You know what the horse is going to do next and he knows what you're going to do. You're not a rider and a horse. You're a team."
Although he has traded horseflesh for horsepower as the rookie driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang Funny Car, Medlen said the same lessons apply.
"Just like with your horse," he said, "you have to be one with your race car."
That's why, before he even made his first competitive sprint down the quarter mile, the former high school rodeo champion spent hours just sitting in the cockpit of the 7,000 horsepower Ford, in the dark, thinking about situations that might occur in events like this week's fourth annual CARQUEST Nationals at Route 66 Raceway.
"When we first started, my dad (crew chief John Medlen) said he wanted me to sit in the car a couple hours a day," said the 31-year-old candidate for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award (NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year). "'Just sit in it and get comfortable with it,' he said. 'If there's anything you want changed, now is the time to do it.'
"He asked me, 'how about the throttle pedal?' I told him, 'it's pretty good, pretty close.' 'But is it perfect?' 'Well, I don't know. It could be better, maybe.' 'Well then move it.' I moved the oil pressure gauge, shutoff levers, brake handles, clutch pedals. After about a week and a half, he said 'you got the car right?' And I said 'yeah, I think I got 'er.' And he said, 'what about the spare car?' We did that one, too."
"I didn't even think about the spare car but if you have to (pull it out of the trailer), let's face it, you're already in trouble. You're probably not qualified and you sure don't need to be going through a learning process.
"I'd go in there at midnight, when nobody else was around, with the lights off. I'd turn the radio on and just sit in there. It was fun. I felt like a six year old kid just sitting there playing with his 'Green Machine."
Those "dress rehearsals" paid big dividends when, in just his 16th race as a pro driver, Medlen won the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.
Now, he has his sights set on a Top 5 finish that would add even more substance to his Rookie-of-the-Year bid.
Presently sixth in points immediately behind teammate Gary Densham, Medlen is just 99 points out of second place, the equivalent of five racing rounds.
His chances this week are enhanced by the fact that he is driving basically the same car in which Tony Pedregon won the CARQUEST Nationals the last two years. That provides the one-time clutch specialist on John Force's championship-winning Ford with a wealth of confidence.
"We definitely have a team that can win," Medlen said. It's not just me or the car or even my dad, as good a tuner as he is. It's a team effort and if every member of the team does his job just right, well, we should celebrate in the winners' circle on Sunday."