FATHERS' DAY AT RACEWAY PARK GIVES EXTRA BOOST TO MEDLENS Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Contender in SuperNationals ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- While teammates John Force and Robert Hight have been monopolizing the media spotlight this season, Eric Medlen...
FATHERS' DAY AT RACEWAY PARK GIVES EXTRA BOOST TO MEDLENS
Castrol SYNTEC Ford a Contender in SuperNationals
ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. -- While teammates John Force and Robert Hight have been monopolizing the media spotlight this season, Eric Medlen has been cruising just under the radar, quietly putting himself in position to make a late run at the NHRA POWERade Funny Car championship.
Runner-up at last week's CARQUEST Nationals at Joliet, Ill., a performance that boosted him to sixth place in points, Medlen's name wasn't included on the short list of favorites for this week's 36th annual K&N Filters SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park but it should have been.
After all, his Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang has been the second best car at each of the last two races in the series second quickest behind Force's Castrol GTX® Start Up® Mustang at Topeka, Kan., and second best behind Gary Scelzi's Oakley Dodge last week at Joliet.
Moreover, he returns this week to a track on which he was the No. 1 qualifier a year ago; one on which his race car has started from No. 1 six of the last nine years.
And then there's the Father's Day thing. Medlen's crew chief on the SYNTEC Ford, the man who provides the motorized muscle, is his dad, John Medlen.
"To win with him, on Father's Day, would be unbelievable," Medlen said. "Just to get to drive with him, I still can't believe it, really."
Not that the Medlens haven't won together before. In fact, they beat Scelzi in the final round last year at Brainerd, Minn., a breakthrough victory that propelled the younger Medlen, once an aspiring rodeo cowboy, to fifth place in points as the top rookie in the Funny Car division.
But a Father's Day victory? According to Eric, that would be the ultimate.
"That'd be the biggest thing you could ever imagine," he said. "When I was growing up, there's one guy I wanted to impress and do good in his eyes and never disrespect and that was dad. I know everybody says it, but he was just kinda always my hero, really."
The elder Medlen, who once was a driver himself, decided to focus exclusively on the mechanical side of the sport after suffering a broken back and other injuries in a series of crashes, most of them in ill-handling drag boats.
He subsequently became one of the most respected crew chiefs on the POWERade tour, working with Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Chuck Etchells and, finally, John Force. Hired in 1996 to run Force's second Funny Car, Medlen and driver Tony Pedregon won at least one race every year and, in 2003, took the championship away from Force with an eight-win season.
When Pedregon left the team after winning it all, Force opted to give the younger Medlen, a crewman on his own car, a chance and, at the same time, re-unite him with his father.
"There wasn't any doubt in my mind that Force's decision to let Eric drive was a good one," Medlen said, "but I know it was a hard sell to the sponsors. Hopefully, we proved last year that we could do the job. I think we did."
In fact, Medlen did his job so well that Force had little difficulty selling sponsors on a second rookie driver. Hight, whose background as a crewman mirrors that of Medlen, climbed into the cockpit of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford this season and qualified it No. 1 at four of the season's first 10 races, winning at Houston.
"If Eric hadn't succeeded, Robert wouldn't have gotten his chance," Force said, matter-of-factly. "We took a chance on Eric because he never had driven before. But by putting him with his dad, we improved the odds. We knew his dad would do whatever it took to get him to where he needed to be. And he did."
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Did You Know? Although he is the driver of one of the world's most powerful race cars, Eric isn't likely to let it go to his head. That's because, in addition to his driving duties, John Force has put Eric in charge of overseeing the painting of all the team's cars and transporters as well as the placement of all the sponsor decals....As 2004's top Funny Car rookie, Eric won the Motel 6 "Who Got the Light?" award an unprecedented four times by winning the two-car race decided by the narrowest margin at four different events....after qualifying No. 1 last year, Eric was upset in round one by Tommy Johnson Jr....in addition to last year's performance, the SYNTEC Ford was the No. 1 qualifier at the SuperNationals in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003.