MEDLEN EYES WINNERS' CIRCLE IN RETURN TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Back on 4.70 Second Pace ATLANTA, Ga. -- When Eric Medlen visualizes Atlanta Dragway, site of this week's 25th annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern...
MEDLEN EYES WINNERS' CIRCLE IN RETURN TO ATLANTA DRAGWAY
Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Back on 4.70 Second Pace
ATLANTA, Ga. -- When Eric Medlen visualizes Atlanta Dragway, site of this week's 25th annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals, he sees himself celebrating in the winners' circle.
For the 31-year-old Funny Car contender, it's not just an exercise in positive thinking, it's a vivid memory of his first drag racing victory, one earned not as the driver of the 330 mile-an-hour Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, but as a member of the crew.
In 1996, Medlen was a 22-year-old rookie mechanic, working alongside his crew chief/father, John Medlen, on a Castrol Funny Car driven by Tony Pedregon.
Conceived strictly as a research-and-development vehicle, the car was to have run only a limited schedule.
However, after Pedregon beat boss and teammate Johh Force to win the 1996 Southern Nationals, that all changed. In fact, the team wound up running the entire NHRA schedule, ultimately finishing second in points.
"All those other teams my dad was on, I'd been there when he'd won," Medlen said, "but it really wasn't like I was part of the team. The fact that we kind of (won Atlanta) together, with Tony and all the other guys, that made it really special."
Now, re-united with his father after seven seasons as a member of Force's Castrol GTX Start Up crew, the 31-year-old Medlen believes he has a race car capable of taking the two of them back to the Atlanta winners' circle.
"We had a bad race in Las Vegas (where he barely made the starting field and then was beaten in the first round) and we fell from fifth to ninth in (POWERade) points," Medlen said, "but we stayed over and tested on Monday and we went to Bristol (for the May 1 Thunder Valley Nationals) with a better car (one in which he qualified No. 2). Now, I think we've got our old race car back."
Medlen's resurgence could not have come at a more opportune time at the start of a grueling three races-in-three weeks grind that moves the tour from Atlanta to Columbus, Ohio, and, finally, to Topeka, Kan.
"I think where you make the most momentum is when you get on a roll during one of these three-race swings," Medlen said.
"Guys that stumble in the first race are pretty likely to stumble at the next two because, if you have a problem, you really don't have the time to figure it out (before you're back racing again)," he explained. "(Moreover) the guys that do well (in the first race), generally keep doing well for the same reason. You don't have a lot of time to over-analyze everything and screw it up.
"So, a lot of times, you see guys that get hot on a three-in-a-row make huge moves in the points. Obviously, that's something we'd like to do."
Currently seventh in points, Medlen thinks the next nine races, three sets of three-races-in-a-row, will be instrumental in deciding who wins the 2005 POWERade championship and the $400,000 bonus that comes with it.
Medlen, last year's top Funny Car rookie, believes it's way too early to be counting drivers in or out insofar as the points race is concerned.
"It's so competitive right now that you can drop four positions or gain four positions in just one round," he said. "Look at Bristol. We didn't have a great race. We got beat in the second round, but we still moved up two positions.
"You look at the points and there's less than 100 (95) between the drivers who are No. 2 and No. 10. Trust me, there'll be some big changes after Atlanta. We just want to stay in the hunt because it's not going to get serious until we get to Indy (and the 51st annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals)."