Rookie-of-the-Year Contender Seeks First Tour Victory MADISON, Ill. (June 25-27) -- In all honesty, Eric Medlen's rapid development this season from rookie driver of the Castrol SYNTECÂ® Ford Mustang to legitimate contender for the Funny...
Rookie-of-the-Year Contender Seeks First Tour Victory
MADISON, Ill. (June 25-27) -- In all honesty, Eric Medlen's rapid development this season from rookie driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang to legitimate contender for the Funny Car championship at this week's eighth annual Sears Craftsman Nationals at Gateway International Raceway should not have been that surprising.
After all, over the last five seasons, the 30-year-old former high school rodeo champion covered more miles behind the wheel of a Ford Funny Car than even his boss, 12-time series champion John Force.
They just weren't competitive miles, the kind he now is driving in pursuit of the NHRA POWERade Championship.
That's because, in addition to his mechanical responsibilities with Force's Castrol GTX team, Medlen was the crew member who, at the end of each quarter mile sprint, climbed into the cockpit of the world's fastest Mustang and steered it back to the pits on the end of a tow rope.
"You're in there," Medlen recalled, "driving it back, and you're thinking 'man, this would be bitchin. I could do this.' I never used to tell anybody, but I thought to myself, 'I'm still playing Hot Wheels only now mine's a 2,400-pound Mustang.'"
For seven years, Medlen learned from the most talented driver in the sport. Every time Force sent a car hurtling down the quarter mile, the driver-to-be visualized himself behind the wheel, bumping into the starting beams, accelerating from zero-to-100 miles per hour in less than a second, wrestling the car back into the "groove" when an engine misfire drove it one direction or the other; deploying the braking parachutes.
A firm believer in the technique of visualization, he often imagined himself in situations that he now has faced for real and, in most cases, handled with the skill of a veteran.
When he was guiding Force's Ford back to the pits, he often would envision himself in various actual driving situations. When he finally got his chance at the wheel of the same car that won the 2003 championship he employed those techniques in a different manner.
Before he made his first test laps in the SYNTEC Ford, Medlen spent hours just sitting in the cockpit with the car up on jack stands in the John Force Racing shop facility in Yorba Linda, Calif.
"My dad (crew chief John Medlen) said he wanted me to sit in the car a couple hours each day," Medlen recalled, "just sit in it and get comfortable with it. I'd go in there at midnight, when nobody else was around, with the lights off. I felt like a six-year-old kid playing with his 'Green Machine.' I'd turn the radio on and just sit in there for hours.
"I was talking to (former tour winner and current ESPN TV commentator) Mike Dunn," Medlen said, "and he said, 'yeah, I just used to sit in my car and practice different scenarios. If it did this, I'd do this; if it did that, I'd do that over like 50 times in a row, until I had 'em down. And then when they happened for real, you just did 'em.'"
The payoff has been in the performance. Medlen has gone to a final round already this year (Topeka, Kan.), qualified No. 1 last week at Englishtown, N.J., and is fifth in season points ahead of such veterans as Ron Capps, Gary Scelzi and the man he replaced in the SYNTEC Ford, Tony Pedregon.