Baytown: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN TRYING TO MOVE UP AT O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS Second Year Driver Gaining Confidence HOUSTON, Texas -- Like everyone else competing this week in the 18th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, Eric Medlen...

Second Year Driver Gaining Confidence

HOUSTON, Texas -- Like everyone else competing this week in the 18th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park, Eric Medlen invariably tends to place a greater-than-justified emphasis on reaction time, the minuscule number that reflects how quickly a driver responds to the sequential amber-green lights that signal the start of each two-car heat in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

While the driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang understands that it is a subjective number, one that, among other things, reflects differing clutch and chassis set-ups, brake pressures, engine compression and how each individual driver positions his vehicle for the start, he still agonized last year over some of the less-than-stellar numbers he put up in his debut season on the pro tour.

It would be difficult not to do so considering the priority that often inaccurately has been placed on reaction time by TV commentators, PA announcers, newspaper reporters and even average race fans.

"Towards the middle of the year, I had some holeshot defeats that were pretty disappointing," Medlen said, referring to races he lost despite positing a quicker quarter mile time.

Fortunately, his crew chief was able to put things in perspective for the 31-year-old, who was last year's top Funny Car rookie after earning a breakthrough victory at Brainerd, Minn. It helps, of course, that his crew chief also is his father, John Medlen.

     "Dad pointed  things out to me like, at one race, maybe half the field smoked the
tires (lost traction), but we didn't.   More times than not, that means that I was able to
keep the car in the groove while a lot of other drivers weren't.  The starting line's
important, don't get me wrong, but he said it's not everything.  That helped me a lot."

What also helped was an incident earlier this season in qualifying for the Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Natinonals at Phoenix, Ariz.

After just beating boss, mentor and teammate John Force to the finish line on an outstanding initial effort (one good enough for the No. 3 position), Medlen stepped off the gas and felt his car shudder. It then made a hard right hand turn, almost colliding with Force's Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford in the other lane.

When the former high school rodeo champion applied the brakes in an attempt to slow down from 300-plus miles an hour, there was no response. The situation was compounded by the fact that the car was shaking uncontrollably as it raced toward the sand pit that marks the end of the track.

Fortunately, the parachutes slowed the hybrid Mustang enough to allow the former Force crewman to make the turn and finally determine what had happened.

"I thought the crankshaft had come out of the motor and I had run over it or something," Medlen said. "It wasn't like anything I'd felt before."

Instead, what he found was that the tread on the massive left rear tire had, for whatever reason, separated from the carcass and literally beat the car into an unusable mass of carbon fiber and metal. An enormous piece of the body had been blown out above the wheel well. In addition, the shredding tire had taken out the brakes and the firebottles and the vibration it created had broken the chassis in four critical locations.

The upshot was that the team had to scrap the body and chassis and build an entirely new race car from a bare chassis in time to make the next qualifying session.

     "Eric did a great job," Force said.  "He was in trouble, he was running into my
lane, but he got control and wrestled it back over and got it stopped.  He did a helluva
driving job.  Guys out there with a lot more experience couldn't have done it better."

It was a confidence-booster for the driver and a catalyst for a young crew and, as a result, Medlen is one of the Funny Car drivers to watch this week at the finish line as well as the starting line.

* * * *

Did You Know? Eric was a high school rodeo champion who was contemplating a future as the professional calf roping partner of two-time PRCA champion Jerold Camarillo when his father called in 1996 to offer him a job at John Force Racing....Eric worked for one season on the Castrol SYNTEC Ford then driven by Tony Pedregon before moving over to John Force's Castrol GTX entry in 1997, serving first as the supercharger technician and later as clutch indication of Eric's competitiveness is the fact that in his rookie season, he earned the Motel 6 "Who Got the Light?" award four times. That award is presented at each event in the POWERade series to the winning pro driver of the race decided by the narrowest margin.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Eric Medlen , John Medlen