MEDLEN IN ANOTHER 'HOME GAME' AS TOUR MOVES TO NATIONAL TRAIL Driver of Castrol SYNTEC Ford Has Links to Ohio COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Although he grew up in California and now lives in Indianapolis, Funny Car driver Eric Medlen considers this...
MEDLEN IN ANOTHER 'HOME GAME' AS TOUR MOVES TO NATIONAL TRAIL
Driver of Castrol SYNTEC Ford Has Links to Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Although he grew up in California and now lives in Indianapolis, Funny Car driver Eric Medlen considers this week's 41st annual Pontiac Performance Nationals at National Trail Raceway another "home game," one in which he hopes to jump start his bid for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.
That's because, after he left Oakdale, Calif., where he was a high school rodeo champion, he spent three years in Ohio studying mechanical engineering at Terra Technical Institute (in Fremont) while also working as a machinist alongside his father, who was plant manager at Callies Crankshafts, Inc., in Fostoria.
After leaving Callies, John Medlen signed on at John Force Racing to oversee the build-up of a second Castrol-backed Funny Car team. His son, meanwhile, prepared for a career in pro rodeo in the belief that his dream of racing with his dad never would come true.
He was wrong.
Shortly after his arrival at JFR, the elder Medlen placed a call to his son, offering him a job as a mechanic. Eight years later, after spending time as the clutch technician on John Force's all-conquering Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford, the younger Medlen moved into the cockpit of the Castrol SYNTEC® Mustang as the successor to 2003 series champion Tony Pedregon.
Thrown into the pressure cooker, in what he has called a "white hot spotlight," the 31-year-old responded last season by qualifying for all 23 races, winning at Brainerd, Minn., and finishing fifth in the POWERade point standings. He easily was the Funny Car division's top rookie.
This year, though, he has struggled, especially over the last three events. He comes into National Trail Raceway eighth in POWERade points, having won fewer racing rounds than he has lost.
However, his recent problems are attributable not to the dreaded "sophomore jinx," but to something a little more tangible.
"We've made a big change in how we run the car," Medlen said. "We had wrung all the performance we could out of the old combination and now we've switched over to some of the things that (crew chiefs Austin) Coil and Jimmy (Prock) have been doing with the other cars (in the JFR stable).
"It's going to be good but right now my dad is just trying to get comfortable with it. With the old combination, he knew exactly what would happen if he did this or did that. The new combination is different enough that we're having to be re-trained a little, but I think it's made us a better team and once he gets it figured out, we're gonna be fast."
The younger Medlen, who never had driven competitively in the NHRA national series before climbing in the cockpit of the SYNTEC Ford, would like nothing better than to break out of his recent slump in his latest return "home."
"We've got a lot of friends back here," Medlen said, "and maybe that extra support will inspire us. Who knows?"
Despite his struggles, Medlen has remained solidly positioned in the Top 10 in what Force has characterized as the "best Funny Car field ever."
"You can't worry about (the points), especially this early in the season," Medlen said. "Besides, it's so close right now that you can gain four positions or lose four positions in one round. It's crazy."