Medlen Among Favorites at Winternationals 4.744 Test Run Stamps Second Year Driver as Contender POMONA, Calif. -- No longer a rookie, Eric Medlen goes back to work comfortable in the knowledge that the drivers against whom he will compete...
Medlen Among Favorites at Winternationals
4.744 Test Run Stamps Second Year Driver as Contender
POMONA, Calif. -- No longer a rookie, Eric Medlen goes back to work comfortable in the knowledge that the drivers against whom he will compete this week in the 45th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals at Pomona Raceway are mere mortals -- just like him.
Medlen, who in his first season drove the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang to a tour victory and to fifth place in NHRA POWERade points, learned a lot last year about himself and also about his rivals.
"The biggest thing I learned is that you can beat these guys," he said. "These are the best drivers in the world. That's pretty intimidating when you're a rookie," especially a rookie who, before last season, hadn't driven a car of any kind in national event competition.
"It might not be the best analogy, but it's like never even playing high school basketball and somebody comes along and says, 'hey, you want to play in the NBA?' And you say to yourself, 'I think I'm pretty good, but can I beat these guys? They're the best ever.'
"So for me, coming in, that was my biggest thing. I knew I could do the job and my dad (crew chief John Medlen) and everybody gave me all the confidence and a great car, but you kinda had a little bit of that self doubt. So, 'can you beat em?' Well you really weren't sure until you got that win (at Brainerd, Minn.)."
Now that the former high school rodeo champion knows that he can win, he hoping to improve on last year's fifth place finish. Not that he has any particular problem with the No. 5 on the side of his car.
"I know 'Snake' (four-time NHRA Funny Car Champ Don "the Snake" Prudhomme) and some those guys never used to put the number on the side of the car unless it was the No. 1, " Medlen said, "but I'm thinking, 'why not?' The truth is, you beat 20 other cars and I'm pretty proud of that.
"And it's cool because every time you get a time slip, it's got that number on there. Every time I walk in (to the trailer), Jason (Morton), the assistant crew chief, looks at the time slip and he says 'look at that, number five. Right on.'
"Besides, it was never a question. John never came up and said, 'what number do you want to put on there?' I already had it stuck on there. I already had it peeled off. Before the last run, all the old numbers were starting to peel off and I thought, 'maybe the wind'll blow 'em right off and we can stick the '5' on there. I think you should be proud of it (because) there are a lot of guys who are trying really hard out there."
As for his chances this week, Medlen is optimistic.
"My dad's got a good history (at Pomona Raceway)," said the 31-year-old native of Oakdale, Calif. "When he was with 'Snake' the first year (1991), I think they were No. 1 qualifier, low ET (at the Winternationals). They dominated that year.
"With Tony (Pedregon, with whom the elder Medlen won the 2003 Funny Car Championship), he always ran good, too."
Moreover, the younger Medlen already has a history of his own at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds track where he was the No. 2 qualifier for last year's Winternationals after leading the pack through the first three rounds.
"I didn't know any better," Medlen quipped, "but, yeah, we feel pretty good going into the race, especially after testing. We made some major changes during testing and I think my dad's got a pretty good handle on the new tune-up.
"Pomona's funny. You look at it, you walk the track and you think there's no way anybody's going to run that good. It'll fool you. You don't want to underestimate what you can do. John ran 4.69 last November. So you know it's capable of handling it."
Although he has a single victory to his credit as a driver, Medlen has won 50 times since he came to work at John Force Racing in 1996 after giving up a promising rodeo career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo. That's one win as a crewman on the Pedregon-driven SYNTEC hybrid and 48 as the supercharger and clutch specialist on Force's Castrol GTX Mustangs.