MEDLEN ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AS POINTS RACE MOVES TO MOTORPLEX ENNIS, Texas -- Facing possible elimination from a points race he and his Castrol SYNTEC teammates worked so hard to rejoin, Eric Medlen hopes to follow the lead of rival Ron...
MEDLEN ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN AS POINTS RACE MOVES TO MOTORPLEX
ENNIS, Texas -- Facing possible elimination from a points race he and his Castrol SYNTEC teammates worked so hard to rejoin, Eric Medlen hopes to follow the lead of rival Ron Capps this week when the race for the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Funny Car championship moves to the Texas Motorplex for the 20th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals.
Just one week ago, Capps was in Medlen's spot the man on the bubble in a five-driver shootout for the title. However, a victory at Joliet, Ill., propelled Capps from fifth to third, just two points behind 13-time champion John Force and 45 behind pacesetting teammate Gary Scelzi.
"If we can do what Capps did, we can put ourselves right back in it," Medlen said. "We're 100 points behind and, realistically, you probably need to be within 60 points coming out of Dallas to have a real shot."
That means that the second year driver of the 325 mile-an-hour Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang would need to advance at least two rounds further than Scelzi to remain a viable threat in the tightest points race in history.
Medlen, who has earned more points since the mid-season break than any of the other contenders, including Scelzi (602-544), feels good about his chances at the Motorplex, the only all-concrete track in the series.
"It's supposed to be cool, in the 70s," Medlen said. "If it is, you might see records. The Motorplex can handle the horsepower, but the groove is really narrow. If you can keep it in the groove, it'll be really fast."
Once an aspiring rodeo cowboy, Medlen chose 7,000 horses over just one when he took a job at John Force Racing in 1996 as a mechanic on the car he now drives. After seven seasons as a supercharger and clutch technician on Force's Castrol GTX ® Start Upâ"' Ford, he was the drag racing icon's surprise choice to replace departing 2003 champion Tony Pedregon in the SYNTEC Ford.
He responded by earning a breakthrough victory last year at Brainerd, Minn., powering him to a fifth place finish as the top Funny Car rookie. This year, after a slow start, he added wins at Seattle, Wash., Brainerd, Minn., and Memphis, Tenn., and was runner-up in the $100,000 Skoal Showdown bonus race at Indianapolis, Ind.
That's not bad for a California native who fully expected to be making his living roping calves with two-time PRCA world champion Jerold Camarillo.
Born and raised in Oakdale, a northern California community that bills itself as "the Cowboy Capitol of the World," Medlen was not part of the cowboy culture until he was in his teens.
"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 went to some jackpot rodeos and then I started high school rodeo-ing with guys like Brent and Blane Lockett and Cody and Linden Cowden. 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 in 1995 he and Camarillo began making serious plans to run a full schedule. That's when Medlen got a call from his dad, who had just been hired as crew chief for a second Force-owned Funny Car team and wanted his son to work on the crew. It wasn't an easy decision for the younger Medlen.
"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."