By Nancy Knapp Schilke
It is with sad news that the world of racing has learned that Eric Medlen passed away in Shands at the University of Florida medical center from the closed head injury he sustained in a testing accident on Monday, March 19, at Gainesville Raceway, the day after the 33-year-old had competed in the GatorNationals.
"On behalf of the family, I want to thank the medical staff at Shands not just for giving Eric the very best care he could have received, but for the compassion it showed for Eric and all those close to him" said his father, John Medlen. "I also want to thank the thousands of people who offered their prayers and support to us during this very difficult time."
Medlen was one of the up and coming stars in the National Hot Rod Association Drag Racing Championship POWERade Series, racing the Castrol Funny Car out of the John Force Racing stables.
Per the team press release just moments ago, Medlen "succumbed Friday afternoon" and he had "never regained consciousness" from the time of the accident up to the induced coma. Medlen had a craniotomy procedure on Tuesday evening to relive the pressure and hemorrhaging.
The medical staff, led by Dr. Joseph Layton, Professor of Anesthesiology, Surgery and Medicine and the Chief of Critical Care Medicine at UF, termed Medlen's injury to his brain as "diffuse axonal injury, or DAI". Layton stated: "Survival rates associated with DAI are low."
Layton when on to express, "Despite receiving the most aggressive treatment, Eric continued to have uncontrollable intracranial pressure. His body lost the ability to manage it's salt and water levels and he began displaying the complicating factors associated with DAI."
With the family by his side, they had to make a decision that no-one wants to face. "Eric's family elected to honor Eric's wishes and remove him from the artificial life support systems. Our hearts go out to Eric's loved ones," Layton said.
Medlen graduated from Oakdale High School in California and was on his way to a possible career in professional rodeo when he joined the JFR team as a mechanic.
The son of JFR's Castrol Funny Car crew chief, Medlen climbed into the Ford Mustang that his father prepared in 2004; he earned the Funny Car rookie title in his debut season. In his first three seasons, Medlen won six events which included beating his boss, John Force.
"Eric Medlen was the son I never had," said team owner John Force. "He was the leader of my next generation of drivers. Robert Hight, my daughter Ashley and I were with the family throughout this very difficult time.
This loss is a huge blow not only to the Medlen family, but to drag racing and to John Force Racing. I just want to thank everybody for their support, from Larry Smiley with Racers for Christ to the hospital staff to the whole drag racing community. Our prayers go out to the family."
Dan Davis, Director, Ford Racing Technology, commented: "This is really tough to take. We are just heartbroken for Eric's family. He was such a great person and a tremendous competitor. Eric had an energy about him that was totally contagious. He was the type of guy who lit up the room the minute he walked into it. And if you knew him, you couldn't help but root for him because of how he came up through the sport and his absolute commitment to his work. The loss we feel at Ford is indescribable.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, to John Force Racing, and to his fans. The sport lost one of its best people today."