Sonoma: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN GOES FROM ONE HORSE TO 8,000 AT INFINEON RACEWAY Castrol SYNTEC Driver Seeks First Win of 2006 Season SONOMA, Calif. -- Eric Medlen started the week polishing up his calf roping skills in a visit to his hometown of Oakdale. He'll...

MEDLEN GOES FROM ONE HORSE TO 8,000 AT INFINEON RACEWAY

Castrol SYNTEC Driver Seeks First Win of 2006 Season

SONOMA, Calif. -- Eric Medlen started the week polishing up his calf roping skills in a visit to his hometown of Oakdale. He'll try to finish it by lassoing a Funny Car championship in the 19th annual FRAM/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway.

A former high school rodeo champion, Medlen was reunited on Tuesday with Little Rock, the cow pony on which he used to compete in team roping events with two-time PRCA world champion -- and Oakdale native -- Jerold Camarillo.

Friday, he'll ride herd on the 8,000 horses powering the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang in a bid to win an NHRA tour event for the first time in almost a year. Although winless in 14 races this year, the 32-year-old is fifth in NHRA POWERade points. That makes him the tour's highest-ranking non-winner.

"We've had a fast car," said the one-time crewman on John Force's national record-holding Castrol GTX Mustang, "but it's the same thing with all these new Mustangs -- we just don't have enough data for the crew chiefs to be real comfortable making a lot of changes."

That situation has been aggravated by the heat wave that has played havoc with performance at each of the first two races in the annual Western Swing which began two weeks ago at Denver, Colo., where it was 102 degrees, and continued last week at Seattle, where it was 101.

"It's been a real challenge for my dad (John Medlen) and the other crew chiefs," Medlen said. "These cars really don't like the heat that much. We've been dealing with track temperatures in the 140s."

Despite the weather problems, Medlen had the car to beat last week in Seattle where he won the Full Throttle award for qualifying consistency, was the No. 2 starter behind teammate Robert Hight and reached the semifinals before an engine failure denied him a victory over points leader Ron Capps and ended his title defense.

"It was disappointing (to lose in the semifinals), especially because we could've helped John (boss and teammate John Force, who is second in POWERade points) by taking Capps out. But, at the same time, we picked up a couple positions and we're coming into Sonoma with some momentum."

All of that coupled with his history of summer success (all four of his career wins have come in July and August) makes Medlen a driver worth watching at Infineon even though he has yet to advance beyond the second round at the FRAM Nationals.

A notoriously slow starter, he exited in the first round in successive races to start the 2006 season. He hasn't lost in the first round since and has gone to the semifinals -- but no further -- in six of the last 12 races.

"We're stuck in the semifinals," Medlen lamented, "but as long as you keep putting yourself in position to win, eventually it's going to happen. Maybe this week. To win at Sonoma, with maybe Jerold here to watch, friends and family, my mom, that would be something, but the deal is, we just need to get one of these Fords in the winners' circle and it doesn't make any difference which one.

"If it's the SYNTEC car, well, that'd be great, but we need to start beating these Dodges (the Don Schumacher Racing Chargers driven by Capps, reigning series champion Gary Scelzi and Whit Bazemore). That's our job."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Eric Medlen , Don Schumacher , Robert Hight , John Medlen