Rookie Medlen Eyes Breakthrough at O'Reilly Thunder Valley Event Castrol SYNTEC Ford Bids for Third Straight 'Pole' BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 30-May 2) -- Driving the same Castrol SYNTECÂ® Ford that started from the No. 1 qualifying position at...
Rookie Medlen Eyes Breakthrough at O'Reilly Thunder Valley Event
Castrol SYNTEC Ford Bids for Third Straight 'Pole'
BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 30-May 2) -- Driving the same Castrol SYNTEC® Ford that started from the No. 1 qualifying position at Bristol Dragway in both 2002 and 2003, rookie Eric Medlen hopes to rope an NHRA POWERade tour victory this week in the fourth annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Thunder Valley Nationals.
A former high school rodeo champion who once had his eye on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour, Medlen has done well in his first five races as a professional Funny Car driver, but he knows there is enormous room for improvement.
In fact, a couple of rookie mistakes probably cost the 30-year-old a shot at tour victories at both Phoenix, Ariz., and Las Vegas, Nev., races in which he was ousted in the semifinals.
Fortunately, the son of Crew Chief John Medlen has demonstrated the same kind of resilience in his brief driving career that is demanded on the pro rodeo circuit.
"Sometimes it's just not your day," Medlen said. "The good thing is that you know there's another race coming next week and you just have to try to do better the next time.
"The first race (the season-opening K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.) I told the writers that I was going to make some rookie mistakes," he continued, "but that's how you learn. This could be our week. I know that the crew is going to put a good race car under me and if I do my job, we'll have a good chance (to win)."
For seven years a crewmember on John Force's national record-holding Castrol GTX High Mileage™ Ford (after a season working on the SYNTEC crew), Medlen has been a breath of fresh air since he first was tabbed by "the boss" as the new driver of the SYNTEC Ford.
"He's got the heart," Force acknowledged, "and he's got me and (Gary) Densham to teach him."
Knowing that his teammates, between them, have more than 50 years experience in Funny Cars is a source of great comfort to the rookie.
"Those guys have been down every racetrack there is," Medlen said, "so any time I have a question, I don't have to go on the Internet to find the answer. I just go next door."
Not only does he have easy access to the two most experienced drivers in the class, he also has the car that last year, at his father's direction, set the Bristol Dragway track record (4.765 seconds) en route to winning an unparalleled 11th straight NHRA POWERade Championship for the Force team.
Although Medlen never had driven a fuel Funny Car until Force put him behind the wheel last season at a contract race in Ohio, Medlen had been priming for a chance to drive all his life.
At the age of six he was rebuilding carburetors in his dad's shop in Oakdale, Calif., and, after graduating from high school, he studied mechanical engineering at Terra Technical Institute in Fremont, Ohio. During his time at JFR, he absorbed everything.
"Every time John made a run (the last seven years), I made it with him," he said, "and I'm still with him only now I'm racing with my dad, too. What could be better?
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