Pomona: Eric Medlen preview

NEW LOOK FOR ERIC MEDLEN IN BID FOR POWERADE TITLE Veteran Drives a Second Auto Club Ford at CARQUEST Winternationals POMONA, Calif. -- Eric Medlen has changed his colors, but not his style. As a result , while the 33-year-old might be a...

NEW LOOK FOR ERIC MEDLEN IN BID FOR POWERADE TITLE
Veteran Drives a Second Auto Club Ford at CARQUEST Winternationals

POMONA, Calif. -- Eric Medlen has changed his colors, but not his style.

As a result , while the 33-year-old might be a little difficult to find this week in the staging lanes at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, he should quickly reveal himself once qualifying begins in the season-opening 47th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals.

Medlen, who in just three seasons has become one of the most popular drivers in the NHRA POWERade Series, begins his latest championship bid in a hybrid Ford Mustang painted in the familiar red, white and blue of the Automobile Club of Southern California and its vacation-planning subsidiary, Pleasant Holidays.

Nevertheless, while the paint might be unfamiliar to race fans, the car's performance is likely to provide a major clue to the driver's identity.

That's because the change in the car's appearance is only superficial. Beneath the carbon fiber shell, it's the same 4.68-second, 329 mile-an-hour Mustang that carried Medlen to six victories in his first three seasons.

"The big difference this year is that all the changes are on the outside," Medlen said. "This is the first year that we haven't started the season with a different (engine/clutch/fuel) combination. We're starting out with something that's familiar and that we know worked last year and that hopefully will get us off to a better start."

Medlen's goal, one shared by his crew chief/father John, is to put the car in the winners' circle at least once before mid-season.

That's something the team hasn't been able to do since the younger Medlen took over the ride.

Although he's been a Top 5 finisher in each of his pro seasons, Medlen hasn't won a race before July 24th. As a result, he has had to race from so far behind that he has yet to put himself in position to seriously challenge for the POWERade championship, a championship that has been won by a John Force Racing driver 15 of the last 17 years.

"We don't plan it that way," he said of his early season struggles. "It just seems like the last three years we went into the season with a lot of new parts and pieces, not to mention new crew members. We didn't really come together as a team until mid-season, after we'd sorted out all the mechanical issues.

"This year, though, I feel a lot more confident starting out. We have basically the same car we finished the season with. We did try some new things in testing (at Las Vegas and Phoenix) that didn't work out quite like we planned, but we knew we could go back to last year's combination and be okay.

"There'll be more opportunities to test during the season," he continued, "(Because) you can't just sit still in this sport. If you do, everybody'll just go right by you. You constantly have to keep working on new technology."

Medlen, who once aspired to a career in pro rodeo, couldn't have found a ride more bone-jarring, tooth-rattling or downright violent than the one into which his boss, 14-time drag racing champion John Force, thrust him three years ago.

Even though he came to Force Racing to work with his dad as a mechanic, a role he capably filled for eight seasons, the last seven on Force's dominating Castrol GTX Ford, he always harbored dreams of one day driving competitively.

He got his chance in 2004 when Force, in defiance of conventional wisdom, tapped him to fill the seat vacated by 2003 series champion Tony Pedregon. Although he had not previously driven in the NHRA Series, Medlen won a 2004 race as the circuit's top Funny Car rookie. He's been winning ever since.

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Did You Know:
Eric Medlen has qualified fifth or better in each of his three previous appearances in the CARQUEST Winternationals. That said, he has yet to win a single round of racing in the NHRA season-opener. He lost in the first round last year to teammate Robert Hight, who went on to win the race. He lost to Jerry Toliver as a rookie and to Del Worsham in 2005.

-credit: jfr

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , John Force , Jerry Toliver , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight