MEDLEN TRIES TO MOVE A STEP FURTHER IN 18TH O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Driver Stuck in the Semifinals TOPEKA, Kansas -- When he was just beginning to rodeo, Eric Medlen gravitated away from bull riding in the belief...
MEDLEN TRIES TO MOVE A STEP FURTHER
IN 18TH O'REILLY SUMMER NATIONALS
Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Driver Stuck in the Semifinals
TOPEKA, Kansas -- When he was just beginning to rodeo, Eric Medlen gravitated away from bull riding in the belief that it was a much too violent way to make a living. He opted instead for calf roping, a sport in which he excelled until his father lured him into drag racing in 1996.
Ironically, he now drives a 7,000 horsepower Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang Funny Car that over the past two seasons has demonstrated a nasty propensity for catastrophic engine explosions at speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour.
The upshot is that the 32-year-old Californian might now be inclined to reconsider his bull riding bias.
"(Bull riding) probably is a lot like driving a Funny Car," Medlen joked as he prepared for this week's 18th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Summer Nationals at Heartland Park-Topeka, "only without the fire."
Although he's won four races in his first two seasons as a driver for John Force Racing and Team Castrol, Medlen admits that his team has gotten more TV time for blowing up its equipment than for blowing away the competition.
Nevertheless, there are signs that crew chief John Medlen, Eric's dad, is getting a handle on a problem rooted in the changeover to new engine and clutch components.
While the team has been shut out of the winners' circle thus far this year, it has gone to the semifinals in four of the last six tour events, a performance that has pushed the younger Medlen into third place in POWERade points.
"These cars are pretty violent even when they don't blow up," Medlen said, "but I wouldn't change a thing. I love my job. I love all the guys on this team. I still have to pinch myself every morning to realize that I'm driving one of the world's most powerful cars for the best team in history.'
Nevertheless, Medlen knows that if he is to challenge for the $400,000 championship, he's going to have to find a way to get his SYNTEC Ford out of the semifinals and into the money round.
He hopes to do that this week on a track on which his father saddled winners in 2001, 2002 and 2003 for then driver Tony Pedregon.
"My dad always has done well at Topeka," Medlen said, "so we're pretty excited. We beat Ron Capps in the first round last week at Columbus, so we've got some momentum. It'd be pretty cool to be the first to win a race with one of these new Mustangs (which debuted this year after an 18-month development)."
The top rookie in the Funny Car division in 2004 after taking over the SYNTEC ride from Pedregon, Medlen won a race his first year at Brainerd, Minn., and finished fifth in the driver standings.
Last year, he won three times, was the dominant driver over the last half of the season, and wound up fourth in points.
Ironically, Medlen never aspired to a driving career. He came to JFR as a mechanic working on the SYNTEC team with his dad. However, after a season supporting Pedregon's efforts in the second JFR entry, he moved over to Force's Castrol GTX Ford on which he served first as supercharger technician and later as clutch specialist.
When Pedregon left the team after winning the 2003 championship, Force stunned almost everyone by giving the reins to Medlen, who never before had driven competitively.
"John took a big chance on me," Medlen said. "I remember that every time I climb in the car. I want to do good for my dad and for Castrol SYNTEC and for the guys on the crew, but I always want to make John proud, too."