Sonoma: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN STILL RIDING HORSEPOWER, BUT IT'S A DIFFERENT EXHAUST SYSTEM Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Favorite in FRAM/Autolite Event SONOMA, Calif. -- Eric Medlen gave up a promising rodeo career to go drag racing but he never strayed far from the ...

MEDLEN STILL RIDING HORSEPOWER, BUT IT'S A DIFFERENT EXHAUST SYSTEM
Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Favorite in FRAM/Autolite Event

SONOMA, Calif. -- Eric Medlen gave up a promising rodeo career to go drag racing but he never strayed far from the pasture.

After building a reputation on a cow pony named Little Rock as team roping partner to two-time PRCA champion Jerold Camarillo, the Oakdale native now is capably riding herd on 7,000 horses, the ones that power the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang he'll drive this week as one of the favorites in the 18th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals.

     "It's all horsepower," Medlen said of the similarities between his current ride and his
former one.  "It's just a different exhaust system."

The 31-year-old made boss, teammate and mentor John Force look like a genius last season when, as a true rookie, he won one tour event, was runner-up in another, twice started from the No. 1 qualifying position and finished a solid fifth in NHRA POWERade points.

This year, after struggling early on, the former high school rodeo champion has moved up to sixth place on the strength of a runner-up finish at Joliet, Ill., and a wire-to-wire victory last week at Seattle, Wash.

"We were a win looking for a place to happen," Medlen said, "and now that we've got some momentum, we sure don't want it to stop. Infineon Raceway is just a couple hours from home, so we'll have a big rooting section this week. My mom will be there, my uncle Steve (Medlen), my cousin Butch, Jerold.

"We've had a fast car all year," Medlen said. "We just haven't had any racing luck. But, you know, that stuff has a way of evening out over the season, so maybe we got all the bad stuff out of the way."

At Phoenix, in qualifying for the season's second race, Medlen found himself in real trouble when one of the treads of the massive 18-inch wide rear tires separated

from the core and literally beat the race car to pieces, destroying the carbon fiber body and breaking the chassis in four different places.

Then, just last month, a loose fitting on an internal fuel nozzle allowed nitromethane fuel to bleed into the oil pan. When a piston in the ailing engine failed, it set the fuel off like a bomb, forcing Medlen to bail out of the escape hatch cut into the roof of the Mustang.

Things began to change for the better last week when the second year pro set a Pacific Raceways track record (4.735 seconds) in qualifying No. 1 for the second time this year. He closed the deal by beating teammate and points leader Robert Hight in the final round.

"I almost feel bad because I think, dang, if Robert had been able to beat me, he'd be another 20 points closer to the championship," Medlen said. "But then again we needed to get going, too. Really, I don't think we're too far out of this thing to at least give them a run (for the title)."

Indeed, Medlen rolls into Infineon just 215 points behind Hight with nine races remaining. He's only 32 points behind fifth place Tommy Johnson Jr., and only 131 behind Force, the sport's most prolific winner, who is second in the standings.

Of course, while he's in the Sonoma area, Medlen, as usual, will take advantage of his proximity to Camarillo's ranch to climb back into the saddle and make sure he still has a career option should this racing thing not work out.

"Jerold told me when I took the job (at John Force Racing) that 80 per cent of World Champions in roping are 30 and older," Medlen said. "He said, 'so if (drag racing) doesn't work out, you can come back and this will always be here.' That meant a lot. So now, when I come back home, I go back out just to make sure I can still do it."

"I never thought I'd get the chance to drive," he said. "It was enough just getting to work with my dad, which was always my dream. But then to wind up in this car with this crew is just awesome."

Apparently, that rodeo career is going to remain on hold a while longer.

* * * *

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 ...after qualifying seventh and beating Jeff Arend in the first round, Eric was ousted in the second round of last year's race by Tony Pedregon, the man he replaced in the Castrol SYNTEC Ford.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Jeff Arend , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , Tommy Johnson Jr.