WHETHER IT'S ONE HORSE OR 7,000, MEDLEN'S AT HOME IN THE SADDLE Castrol SYNTEC Driver a Legitimate Title Contender DALLAS, Texas -- Ten years ago, if Eric Medlen had come to Texas, he probably would have been riding one horse instead of...
WHETHER IT'S ONE HORSE OR 7,000, MEDLEN'S AT HOME IN THE SADDLE
Castrol SYNTEC Driver a Legitimate Title Contender
DALLAS, Texas -- Ten years ago, if Eric Medlen had come to Texas, he probably would have been riding one horse instead of the 7,000 that power the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang he'll try to coax to victory in this week's 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex.
How he made the transition from roping calves, a skill that made him a California high school rodeo champion, to racing hybrid Mustangs, a job that this year could earn him an NHRA Funny Car championship, is a story that has made the 32-year-old a media and fan favorite on the 23-race NHRA POWERade tour.
Born and raised in Oakdale, a northern California community that bills itself as "the Cowboy Capitol of the World," Medlen nevertheless was not part of the cowboy culture until he was in his teens.
Early on, he was a racer, through and through, wishing more than anything to follow in the footsteps of his father, John Medlen, a local legend who drove dragsters, stock cars and hydroplane boats.
"Growing up, my dad had a machine shop and we always raced something," Medlen recalled. "Then him and my mom split up (when) I was about seventh grade. That was a pretty tough deal."
When his dad moved to Arkansas as crew chief for Rudy Toepke, the younger Medlen slowly gravitated from racing to rodeo after failed attempts at wresting and football.
"One of the cousins on my mother's side, Justin, rodeo-ed. He rode bulls and team-roped and everything. We went over there one day and he was roping this dummy steer, a practice steer. I thought that looked pretty cool, so I asked him, 'can you teach me that?' 'Well, sure,' he said. And that's how it started.
"I used to ride my bicycle from school to this guy, Mike Bacigalupi's ranch, which was probably four miles or something, with this rope on my handlebars," Medlen recalled. "I had these freakin' cowboy boots on and it was my mom's bike, too.
"Anyway, every day I'd go out there and stay until my mom (Mimi) got off work at the hospital. 'Batchie,' he had some horses. And he says, 'we'll let you get on a horse, but first you have to rope this dummy steer 15 times without missing.'
"Well, it took me about six months to get to where I could do it. I said, 'Batch, I roped it 15 times.' He said,' did I say 15? I meant 20.' And he'd always upped it until it got, like, to 100. One hundred times in a row. And then he said, 'okay, I was just screwing with you. You can get on the horse now.
"I went to some jackpot rodeos and then I started high school rodeo-ing with guys like Brent and Blane Lockett, Cody and Linden Cowden, Daniel Green. Joe Baumgardner was the rodeo clown. I beat 'em. Of course, they beat me too. But it was kind of an even deal."
Medlen eventually became so proficient that he and Jerold Camarillo, a two-time PRCA world champion from Oakdale, were making plans to compete in a full slate of national and regional team roping events beginning in 1995.
That's when Medlen got a phone call from his dad, who had just been hired as crew chief on a second Funny Car team out of John Force Racing in Yorba Linda, Calif. He asked Eric if he wanted to work on the crew. Although that always was the younger Medlen's dream, it wasn't an easy decision.
"I always wanted to work with my dad, but then I didn't want to let Jerold down, because it got to be where he was kinda like my dad, too. So I talked to Jerold and he said, 'I think you oughta go. If it doesn't work out, you can come back and this will always be here. But if you pass it up, it might not ever come around again."
Medlen has made the most of the opportunity. After distinguishing himself as a crewman for eight seasons, he was Force's surprise choice to drive the SYNTEC Ford after Tony Pedregon's departure following the 2003 season. Last year's top Funny Car rookie, he has won three times this year to put himself in position to add a "buckle" to his collection, this one for riding more than one horse.
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Did You Know? Last year, after qualifying only tenth, Eric beat Tommy Johnson Jr. and Phil Burkart Jr. before losing in the semifinals of the O'Reilly Fall Nationals to Cruz Pedregon....in addition to his driving duties, Eric supervises decal and paint applications on all cars in the John Force Racing stable.