Denver: Eric Medlen preview

Rookie-of-the-Year Candidate a Mile-High Contender DENVER, Colo. (July 16-18) -- Had he taken a different path, Eric Medlen might be competing in next week's Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo instead of in the 25th Mopar Mile-High Nationals drag...

Rookie-of-the-Year Candidate a Mile-High Contender

DENVER, Colo. (July 16-18) -- Had he taken a different path, Eric Medlen might be competing in next week's Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo instead of in the 25th Mopar Mile-High Nationals drag races contested this week at Bandimere Speedway Park.

The fact is that nine years ago, the 30-year-old rookie Funny Car driver was preparing for a pro rodeo career when he got a phone call that would change his life and, ultimately, land him in the cockpit of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, the car that won the 2003 NHRA POWERade Championship.

Although he now is a leading candidate for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award (a.k.a. the NHRA Rookie of the Year), Medlen could not have imagined such a possibility in 1995.

Although he had worked part-time in the sport with teams that employed his father John as crew chief, the younger Medlen was making plans for a one-horsepower career when his dad called to offer him an alternative: full-time employment as a mechanic at John Force Racing, Inc.

Although that always had been one of Medlen's dreams, the decision to abandon his rodeo career was not an easy one.

For one thing, he had been disappointed before. Every time his dad took on a new job, he mentioned the possibility that there might be a position there for Eric.

Every time, though, the opportunity seemed to evaporate. Eric was beginning to think that Medlen & Son racing was just a pipe dream.

For another, he had begun to demonstrate real skill as a calf roper while working with 1975 PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo. A high school rodeo champion in Oakdale, Calif., Medlen had become a Camarillo protege, spending his after school hours honing his roping and riding skills.

"He was a world champion who lived in town," Medlen said of Camarillo, "so when all the big-time world champions came to town (for the Oakdale Rodeo), they'd stay out at his house. So my cousin Butch and I, we got to go out there and mingle.

"We were in heaven," he continued. "(Jerold) told us, 'I'll make you guys a deal. If I miss any (calves) today (during practice), I'll take you to the rodeo myself.' To this day, I don't know whether he did it on purpose or not, but he missed one -- so he had to take us with him.

"(Afterward) he said, 'why don't you come out and rope tomorrow?' So I did. I roped with him (and), when we got done, he said, 'why don't you just leave your horse out here and we'll rope tomorrow?' Well, that turned into just kind of roping with him all the time. Then we started going to jackpot roping (events). We won a lot of money. He taught me how to win, how to conduct myself because there's more to being a champion than just being the best. It got to be where (when) Jerold had clinics to teach guys how to rope, he'd let me help him."

That's why, when his dad called, Medlen was torn. Not surprisingly, he went to Camarillo for advice.

"Jerold said, 'well, 80 per cent of World Champions in roping are 30 and older. If I was you, I think you oughta go (drag racing). 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.' That brought us together pretty close because I know he wanted me to stay."

Indeed, Medlen still calls Camarillo to keep him updated on his progress.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen