Brainerd: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN DEFENDS FIRST FUNNY CAR TITLE IN RETURN TO BRAINERD INTERNATIONAL Castrol SYNTEC Driver Hoping to Score a Big Birthday Present BRAINERD, Minn. -- Eric Medlen will celebrate his 32nd birthday this weekend with teammates, family and ...

MEDLEN DEFENDS FIRST FUNNY CAR TITLE IN RETURN TO BRAINERD INTERNATIONAL
Castrol SYNTEC Driver Hoping to Score a Big Birthday Present

BRAINERD, Minn. -- Eric Medlen will celebrate his 32nd birthday this weekend with teammates, family and friends attending the 24th annual Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

The only thing at issue is where that celebration will occur.

Medlen would like to assemble everyone in the winners' circle, as he did a year ago. Unfortunately, BIR doesn't take reservations.

As a result, the former high school rodeo champion will have to earn his way back in at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang owned by his mentor, John Force, and prepared by his father, John Medlen.

The defending Funny Car champion, Medlen can't wait to get back on a track that has been so good to him.

"Because it was where I won my first race, Brainerd always will be special," Medlen said, "but it was special even before last year."

In fact, during the seven seasons that Medlen worked on the crew of Force's Castrol GTX® Ford, he went to victory lane four times -- 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002, the first two times as the team's supercharger technician; the last two as clutch specialist.

"My dad and Jason (Morton, the assistant crew chief) finally have a handle on this new combination," Medlen said, referencing a major change in the components and the methodology being used this season to get the car from Point A to Point B.

"We were real comfortable with the way the car was running (last season)," he continued, "but the problem was that we had maxed out the potential (of that particular combination). If we wanted to get quicker and faster -- which you have to do in this sport to stay competitive -- we knew we were going to have to make some major changes.

     "Unfortunately, that put us behind at the start (of the season)," he explained.
"We've been trying to catch up ever since.  Now the car is responding to the changes
they're making.   Right now we've got a really good race car."

It was good enough, in fact, to get Medlen a victory last month at Seattle, Wash., the second of his brief career. That effectively put him back in the hunt for the championship. He comes into Brainerd in seventh place, but he's only seven points out of fifth, the position in which he finished a year ago as the sport's top Funny Car rookie.

"Considering everything, we're in pretty good shape. We wanted to be within 200 points of the lead coming off the Western Swing (back-to-back races in Denver, Seattle and Sonoma, Calif.) and we are. Just barely, but we are (193 back of rookie teammate Robert Hight, the current leader).

"But now it's crunch time. To have a real chance (to win the title), we have to start making up ground this week and every week after that. There's eight races left. If you could make up just one round per race, that would be 160 points. That would give you a chance, I think."

Medlen's Seattle victory extended one of the most remarkable streaks in drag racing. Since Force moved to the multi-car team concept in 1996, every team driver has won at least one race every season.

     "That says a lot about the depth of this team," Medlen said, "and we take a lot of
pride in that.  But that doesn't mean that we're satisfied now that we've won a race (this
season).  Once you win one, you want to win another one.  That's just human nature.
Would we like to win this one?  You bet.  And the one after that and the one after that.

"That's probably not realistic, but that's your mindset."

* * * *

Did You Know? Eric was a rodeo champion at Oakdale (Calif.) High School who, before becoming a crewman on the car he now drives (in 1996), was contemplating a pro career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo, an Oakdale neighbor....Eric's path to last year's victory at BIR began with a No. 4 start. He beat Jim Head, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps before upsetting Gary Scelzi in the final round....Eric never had driven a car in competition at any level before he got his chance last year in the Castrol SYNTEC Ford in which Tony Pedregon won the 2003 series title....in addition to his driving duties, Eric also supervises paint and decal placement on all three Ford Mustangs in the John Force Racing stable as well as on Ashley Force's Castrol/Hot Wheels dragster and on the Brand Source Super Comp dragsters driven by Force's youngest daughters, Brittany and Courtney. He also painted the custom helmets worn by every team member.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jim Head , Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Ashley Force , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , John Medlen , Tommy Johnson Jr.