MEDLEN LOOKING FOR 'NORMALCY' AT 19TH O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS Castrol SYNTEC Driver Hoping to Move Up in Points Race HOUSTON, Texas (March 29-April 2, 2006) -- After the first three events in the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series,...
MEDLEN LOOKING FOR 'NORMALCY' AT 19TH O'REILLY SPRING NATIONALS
Castrol SYNTEC Driver Hoping to Move Up in Points Race
HOUSTON, Texas (March 29-April 2, 2006) -- After the first three events in the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, Funny Car driver Eric Medlen has a pretty good idea of what it's like being a test pilot.
"It's exciting because you never know what to expect," observed the 32-year-old driver of the Castrol® SYNTEC® Ford Mustang. "Having said that, I have to admit that the excitement meter is just about pegged for this team. It'd be nice for the guys -- and for me, too -- to have one race that was kinda normal."
It's a relative term, but for Medlen and company, "normal" would be qualifying in the top half of the field at this week's 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park and then winning rounds on Sunday without sacrificing major components like superchargers, connecting rods and engine blocks.
"It'd be nice to make a couple runs without having to use the fire bottles," he said.
Working with new crew members, as Medlen has done at each race this year, is an adventure in itself. Throw in the transition to a new engine/clutch combination, a new Goodyear tire and a new 2006 Ford Mustang body and then factor in NHRA's changing rev limiter requirements and you have the kind of volatility that has manifested itself in several catastrophic failures.
A four-time tour winner and the No. 1 qualifier earlier this year at Phoenix, Ariz., Medlen is only seventh in the current driver standings, well back of teammates John Force and Robert Hight and a 135 behind points leader Ron Capps.
"We've had a fast car on a short fuse," he said, "but I think my dad (crew chief John Medlen) has it pretty well figured out and the new guys are beginning to understand the difference between doing it nearly right and exactly right. As competitive as it is in Funny Car right now, you have to be exactly right to win."
Medlen understands the challenge facing crew members better than most. For seven seasons, he was a member of Force's Castrol GTX crew. Working first as a supercharger technician and later as the team's clutch specialist, he figured prominently in six series championships.
Now he wants to win one as a driver -- with his father.
The hottest driver in the series over the last half of the 2005 season, Medlen hopes to recapture that form in a race his dad won twice (1998, 2000) with former driver Tony Pedregon.
Ironically, had Pedregon not left the team after winning the 2003 championship, Medlen might never had a chance to realize his dream.
Although he had resumes in hand from many of the top drivers in the series, Force surprised everyone by giving the job to Medlen, a former high school rodeo champion who had never driven competitively at the pro level.
His protege didn't disappoint. In a 2004 season in which he was the top rookie in the Funny Car division, he won a race (at Brainerd, Minn.), started two times from the No. 1 qualifying position and finished fifth in points. Sloughing off any suggestion of a "sophomore jinx," he won three times last season en route to a fourth place finish.
This year, he hopes to mount a serious challenge for the POWERade championship. To do so, however, he knows he needs to reverse a disturbing trend.
Although he earned more points over the last half of the 2005 season than any other driver, including champion Gary Scelzi, Medlen was victimized by a slow start. He didn't win a race until July 24th (at Seattle, Wash.). In fact, he's never won a race in the first half of the season. It's a shortcoming he hopes to positively address this week.
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Quotable: "We've had a fast car on a short fuse." ERIC MEDLEN, summarizing his first three races this season in the Castrol SYNTEC Ford.
Notable: In his first appearance at Houston, Eric Medlen beat Cruz Pedregon before losing to Tim Wilkerson. Last year, he reversed the outcome, beat Wilkerson before losing to Pedregon.
Notable: In races completed before the traditional mid-season break in July, Eric Medlen is 28-27 in head-to-head competition with no victories. In races AFTER the break, he is 37-18 with four wins.