FOR MEDLEN, PATH TO SECOND WIN IS ANYTHING BUT A STRAIGHT LINE Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Sears Craftsman Title Threat MADISON, Ill. -- Eric Medlen doesn't race in circles like they do in the NASCAR series, but the 31-year-old Funny Car driver,...
FOR MEDLEN, PATH TO SECOND WIN IS ANYTHING BUT A STRAIGHT LINE
Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Sears Craftsman Title Threat
MADISON, Ill. -- Eric Medlen doesn't race in circles like they do in the NASCAR series, but the 31-year-old Funny Car driver, a winner last year at Brainerd, Minn., contradicts the notion that drag racing is a straight-line sport requiring little more than a lead foot and a strong constitution.
"Cutting a light (reacting to the flash of green at the start) and getting the parachutes out (to decelerate from 330 miles per hour), that's not all there is," Medlen said as he prepared to drive the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang in this week's ninth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway.
"You leave the starting line, you drive the first 60 feet with one hand because you're letting go of the brake (with the other)," he said, "so you've gotta go from intense concentration on the Christmas Tree (which signals the start) to where you're gonna be and where you gotta go.
"And what's the car doing?," Medlen continued. "Is it shaking (as 8,000 horses try to run the tires off the rims)? Is it shaking bad enough where you've gotta pedal it (feather the throttle)? Did it drop a cylinder (the equivalent of a 'miss' in a passenger car engine)? Because If it did drop a cylinder (at the start) and you drive it all the way down through there, which sometimes you've gotta do to try and get the win light, there's a good chance the thing is gonna disintegrate right in your face.
"Plus, these cars never go straight," said last year's top Funny Car rookie. "I mean, never. They're 120 inches long (wheelbase) and there's never a time when you could say, 'wow, this is a good ride nice and straight.' First thing, it tries to drive out of the groove, so then you have to muscle it back, but it's going so fast, you immediately have to be ready go back the other way. There's a lot of driving going on in 4.7 seconds (the time required for the top cars in the division to cover the standard quarter mile)."
Although every track that hosts an NHRA tour event is flat, straight and a quarter mile in length, each one has a different personality. It is the ability of both crew and driver to adapt to those differences that separates the contenders from the pretenders in the POWERade Series.
"What (most people) don't see is when you've gotta stage the car way inside or way outside (to avoid dips, bumps and 'bald spots' at the starting line) and then what you have to do to get back over into the (racing) groove," Medlen said.
"On tracks with a wide groove, everybody looks good. On tracks with a narrow groove, somebody might think there's something wrong with the car because it smokes the tires four times in a row. More likely, the driver wasn't in the groove. If he had been, he might of made it (without losing traction).
"You've got some drivers who say, 'aw, that doesn't mean anything. There's no groove.' Well, there's not if you're trying to run 5.20, but if you're trying to run 4.70, well, there's a groove. In fact, there's a distinct groove."
To find that "sweet spot," Medlen and Castrol teammate Robert Hight, driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Ford, will walk the Gateway quarter mile before the start of competition in the company of crew chiefs John Medlen, Jimmy Prock and Bernie Fedderly, looking for problem areas.
"A lot of times, there's nothing you can do about (dips, bumps and other inconsistencies)," Medlen said, "but the chiefs just want you to be aware. The more you know, the better chance you have of getting from A to B."
At Gateway, everyone will be dealing with yet another variable -- night racing.
"Nighttime runs are always tougher because the track is just black," Medlen said. "You see the center line and you see the wall, but it's really hard to tell where you are, side to side. Plus, at night your eyes usually react differently to the Christmas Tree. You've just gotta adjust."
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Did You Know? Eric is a former high school rodeo champion who, before becoming a crewman on the car he now drives (in 1996), was contemplating a pro rcareer as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo...Eric comes into Gateway International in seventh place in driver points following a first round loss to teammate Robert Hight at last week's K&N Filters SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J.