Rookie Medlen Rides Into Town On 7,000 Horses Instead Of One Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Favorite in O'Reilly Spring Nationals HOUSTON, Texas (April 16-18) -- There was a time when Eric Medlen might have come to town wearing cowboy boots,...
Rookie Medlen Rides Into Town On 7,000 Horses Instead Of One
Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Favorite in O'Reilly Spring Nationals
HOUSTON, Texas (April 16-18) -- There was a time when Eric Medlen might have come to town wearing cowboy boots, carrying a pigging string, his mind set on roping a couple calves at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Instead, he's here this week to ride herd on 7,000 horses, the ones that power one of the world's fastest race cars, the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang he'll drive in pursuit of the Funny Car championship at the 12th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park.
A former high school rodeo champion, Medlen was good enough eight years ago to seriously consider a career in pro rodeo as partner to 1975 team roping World Champion Jerold Camarillo.
He trained with five-time World Champions Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper and competed, at the high school level, with rodeo clown-to-be Joe Baumgardner.
As a result, the decision of whether to race or to rope was not an easy one.
Ultimately, it was the opportunity to work with his father that took Medlen from Oakdale, Calif., the self-proclaimed "Cowboy Capitol of the World," to Yorba Linda, Calif., and John Force Racing, home of drag racing's biggest winner.
"My dad called (in 1996) and said he was putting together a second team for John Force and wanted to know if I wanted to come to work there," Medlen said. "I didn't know what to do. I always wanted to race with my day, but I wanted to rope with Jerold, too.
"So I asked Jerold. I thought he'd say, 'well, I think you should stay here and rope with me,' but what he said was that '80 per cent of World Champions in roping are 30 and older. You can always come back and do this,'" Medlen recalled. "He told me 'I think you oughta go. If it doesn't work out, you can come back and this will always be here. But if you pass up (the racing opportunity), it might not ever come around again.
Still, Medlen never, ever expected to have an opportunity to drive a 325 mile-an- hour Funny Car, especially one with the pedigree of the SYNTEC Ford.
He was content working as a crewman on the Castrol GTX High Mileage Mustang in which Force set an NHRA national record (4.721 seconds) last year at Joliet, Ill.
That all changed, however, when Tony Pedregon abruptly left the team after winning the 2003 NHRA POWERade Championship and extending to 11 the number of consecutive titles won by Team Castrol drivers.
After interviewing dozens of candidates, Force settled on Medlen because "I knew he had the heart and I knew he would fit in because he already knew the system. Besides, he was family and that's what it's all about."
For Medlen, working for Force and with his father is a dream come true.
"He kinda takes the pressure off you," Medlen said of Force. "He just says, 'go out there and have fun. If it feels like the engine's not running right, then shut if off. If you wanta drive it all the way, go ahead. If you blow it up? We'll get you some more stuff.'
"You're getting to play with somebody else's toys and if you break em, they just give you some more. That's cool but there's a responsibility that comes with that. There's a standard here that's unbelievable and I don't want to let anybody down."
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