Eric Medlen and John Force Comment on Plans for 2004 John Force Racing has proven to be the team to beat in NHRA Funny Car competition, winning the last 11 championships in a row and 13 of the last 14 overall. John Force personally piloted 12...
Eric Medlen and John Force Comment on Plans for 2004
John Force Racing has proven to be the team to beat in NHRA Funny Car competition, winning the last 11 championships in a row and 13 of the last 14 overall. John Force personally piloted 12 of the championship-winning Funny Cars, and his former teammate, Tony Pedregon, took the title last season. This off-season Force had the difficult task of replacing Pedregon, and he is doing so with a rookie. Eric Medlen, having spent the last eight years with John Force Racing as a crew member, will jump into the seat in 2004 and try to keep the championship streak alive for JFR.
ERIC MEDLEN - Driver, Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang Funny Car
HOW DOES IT FEEL GOING INTO YOUR ROOKIE SEASON WITH THE CAR THAT WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST SEASON AND WITH THE TEAM THAT HAS WON 13 OF THE PAST 14 CHAMPIONSHIPS? "I don't think anyone could ever envision getting a break this big. There's the old cliche that you've got some huge shoes to fill, and I definitely do. To be able to get this chance is a dream come true by all means, but to be able to do it here at John Force Racing makes it even better. To be able to do this with my dad and his guys that won the championship last season is almost unexplainable. Besides John, and his guys of course, my dad and his crew were the best in the business last year, so I've got a lot of things going for me, but there is also a lot of pressure here to perform. At the same time I've got a lot of people on my side to help me so I won't fail."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE FOR YOU TO WORK WITH YOUR DAD AS YOUR CREW CHIEF? "I think it's probably going to be a little easier as far as communication. If you had an outside guy that came in there's going to be a learning process for the two personalities. Just communicating and knowing how each other thinks and what each other is trying to get at when they're talking to you, I think that it's easier and just more comfortable because it's with my dad. I'm sure he's probably as nervous as I am, but we've been racing something forever as far as I can remember. Whether it was hydroplane boats, stock cars, mini sprinters, go-karts, everything, and we've always done it together. I think we are both nervous, but it's more like we're finally getting our chance to do it together. This is something that we've always talked about. He's kind of my hero in life because he's done a lot of different things and he's always been successful."
JOHN FORCE TALKS A LOT ABOUT TEAMWORK AMONGST ALL THREE FUNNY CAR TEAMS. DOES THAT TEAM PHILOSOPHY MAKE THIS A LITTLE EASIER FOR YOU IN YOUR FIRST SEASON? "Yeah, it does. I've got the two guys with the very most experience out there on my team, and the crew chiefs are the same way. They've got the most experience and they're the best at what they do and we've got the cream of the crop of crew guys. I don't have to worry about the car blowing up because somebody didn't do their job, because they're all very highly trained and I know I've got everybody on my side, so it's really up to me. I know that these guys are not going to fail, they've proved that over the years, but I'm sure it's going to be a learning experience on my part. As far as being a rookie guy, yeah, I am, but if I get to the final am I going to be nervous? Well sure, but it's not like I've never been in a final before, just in a different position. I think it's just kind of how you think about it. I'm sure that will change when the situation comes up but that's how I'm trying to go about it."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE FIRST TIME YOU'LL HAVE TO GO UP AGAINST YOUR BOSS IN COMPETITION? "I think I might have to get a contract with him to say that if I beat him he won't fire me. He is the best in our sport. It's just what all the other drivers say that if you can beat him, you beat the best. At that point you can't lose because if you get beat, then you just got knocked out by Mike Tyson just like everybody does, but if you beat him it's all the better."
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO LEARN FROM JOHN OVER THE PAST EIGHT SEASONS? "He's a guy that deals from his heart, and thrives off of emotion, and throughout the years that's something that I've always wanted to do. When you're in the position that I was in you tend to watch people like a hawk without them knowing it. Always trying to see how they work and what makes them tick, and he's the best there is but when he's gotta be better he can be better. John has this aura about him that he can rise to any occasion, and he's already on top. I would just to try to watch that and see how he gets into the zone so to speak. He's just a big personality and I think that's one of the things that has got him to where he is because he doesn't try to make everybody love him they just do because he's himself. He has always said that you just go out there be yourself try as hard as you can, and if you do and you do that at a hundred and fifty percent then you'll make it, but if you try to be fake then they'll see that right off, so just be real."
HAVE YOU SET PERSONAL GOALS FOR YOURSELF THIS SEASON? "For me that's hard because there is such a high standard for this team. It goes without saying that the ultimate goal is to win the championship and all 23 races, but realistically I just want to get to the point where I can handle every situation and be calm. I need to learn how to work with the media and just use this year to be competitive and beat everybody, but also just to get off on a good start. I know I need to try and build for a good future and that doesn't happen all in one year. I know I have to work at it just like anything else. I just want to learn all the fundamentals and learn the game."
JOHN FORCE - Team owner/driver, Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE ERIC MEDLEN, A ROOKIE, TO DRIVE FOR YOU NEXT SEASON? "When you have multiple teams and multiple sponsorships it becomes a Rubik's Cube to pick a driver. Drivers are kind of grown over years, they evolve, and it's hard to find the personality to fit the team and somebody that won't just quit on you. This situation evolved because Eric has been with me for eight years, he's the son of John Medlen, the crew chief who just won the championship. Eric as a kid was into go-karts, speed racing, all kinds of stuff, so he's very competitive. Last season, I put Eric in my funny car at Norwalk in a match race and I was totally amazed that he got in the car, came right out of the box and even had the steering wheel come right off in his hand but he kept everything under control, got the chutes out and stopped and I said, wow, that looked fairly simple. He only made a few half trackers, and a three-quarter track pass but we kind of let it go at that because why spend the money and the time when there's not going to be a job opening. Then at Las Vegas when the rumor mill became a reality, the day after the race my crew chief said you need to go look at drivers, so I spent that weekend talking to three or four drivers and that's when the Rubik's Cube came up. Some guys wanted a lot of money, some wouldn't fit in, some the sponsors didn't like and I was overloaded on Sunday night when Tony locked up the championship. Then I got a wake-up call that Tony was probably leaving, so I looked around and my number one pick was Eric Medlen. He had the heart, he was loyal, he was my right arm in the clutch department, he suited me in the car, we became friends and had the motivation to give me a win, so I knew it was in his heart. I went to Eric and said, 'Okay, kid, you know that shot we talked about? Get in this car and don't kill yourself.' I put him in the car and he came right out of the box, and he was licensed on the second day and I was totally in shock."
WHAT WILL BE THE TOUGHEST THING FOR ERIC AS HE STEPS INTO THE CHAMPION'S CAR? "That's the toughest thing that's been laid on him, to put a kid in there to fill somebody's shoes. The hardest thing for him is that he's not going to come out and struggle for the first five years because he's got money, he's got technology, he's got his dad, he's got me, and he's got the best car in the business. So the hardest thing for him is how to evolve. The biggest deal that he's going to be up against, the biggest, toughest battle is that this kid is going to be hit so quickly with a car that knows how to get into the game that he's going to have to stay humble. Because some people get into a fast car and they mentally lose it. Their ego goes crazy and they aren't any good. It's kind of like a football player that wins the Heisman and goes to the pros and fails, his ego ran away with him. This kid has just won the Heisman and we are sending him into the battle and he is going to have to stay humble. He's going to have to show respect to everybody, every competitor, everything. I am the best, I have the most championships, and that's why I'm the best, that's my credential. I never really make a statement like that but I'm making it today. He's got the best teacher in the world as a driver, because he's got me and he's got the best teacher as an interview, because I think I'm the best and I'm gonna stand up and say it. We've got a job cut out for us this year to prove who we are as a team and that's what I'm going to do and I'm going to teach him, Ford is going to teach him and he's going to come right out fighting. But you're right, everybody expects him to fill those shoes, but I told him I don't want you to. Ford wants championships. They want drivers that are going to stay with us forever, and if you're going to stay here, kid, you're gonna be with me forever. I believe in him, I believe this kid, with his dad will evolve. I believe he can do it."
WHAT TYPE OF EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS DO YOU PLACE ON ERIC IN HIS FIRST YEAR? "Our number one is to educate him, and for Eric to evolve and to learn, and to not put a lot of pressure on him. The pressure is going to be there, but he's competitive and he can handle it. Our goal is to win the championship with one of these three funny cars. We have won for the last 11 years, 10 for me and one for Tony, plus two more in 1990 and 1991, and we need to get right back in that game because our sponsors expect it. We're going to do it as a team and we fight the fight together. Our expectation is to get out there and qualify and to get back the national speed record. We're going to put this kid right in to the fight and the expectations are to win. That's just how we think over here at John Force Racing."