Gainesville: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN LOOKING FOR LESS DRAMA AS SERIES MOVES TO GAINESVILLE Castrol SYNTEC® Ford a Funny Car Threat GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Eric Medlen didn't win the most recent event in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, but he and the crew of the ...

MEDLEN LOOKING FOR LESS DRAMA AS SERIES MOVES TO GAINESVILLE
Castrol SYNTEC® Ford a Funny Car Threat

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Eric Medlen didn't win the most recent event in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, but he and the crew of the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang did demonstrate the resolve and resilience one would expect from a team in contention for a championship.

Furthermore, through considerable adversity, together they gained a confidence that could pay off as early as this week when the 31-year Medlen goes after the Funny Car championship in the 36th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

     "The guys did great," Medlen said of the team's performance last month at Phoenix,
Ariz.  "But I'm sure they'd like a more normal weekend when we get to Gainesville."

The team's Arizona weekend began innocently enough at least until Medlen stepped off the accelerator for the first time. What happened then is the subject of some speculation. All Medlen knows is that, whatever occurred, it sent him on the wildest ride of his relatively short driving career.

For whatever reason, the tread on the massive left rear tire separated from the tire carcass. When that occurred, pieces of the tread punched a large hole in the rear deck of the carbon fiber body. It also took out the disc brakes, the fire bottles and most of the infrastructure under the body. Then, slowing from 300 miles per hour with a rear tire missing half its tread, the car, in effect, shook itself apart.

Among the breaks in the chassis was one in a crossmember underneath Medlen's feet. Worse still, the back of the chassis was completely broken off where it connects to the wheelie bar behind the rear wheels.

The upshot was that both the body and the chassis were rendered unusable.

The only option for crew chief John Medlen, Eric's dad, was to go to a back-up car. The problem was that the back-up was little more than a bare chassis in the top of the car hauler. The challenge, then, was to cannibalize the parts off the damaged chassis, including the engine, clutch and complete drive train, and transfer them to the spare. Oh yeah, and perform the usual between rounds maintenance.

With help from the other two crews in the John Force Racing stable, the SYNTEC team not only completed the rebuild in time, it was even able to make a last minute change to the supercharger drive. The result was that the car not only started when prompted, considered by many to be a miracle in itself, but it carried Medlen to a 4.806 second quarter mile that would be his best in four qualifying attempts.

"This team has a lot of pride," Medlen said. "They've never has missed a round (qualifying or racing), no matter what the problem, so it was important not to let that keep us from making the call. And then to run 4.80. That tells you something about my dad and they guys on this crew."

It also speaks to the driver's own preparedness.

"When we first started, my dad said he wanted me to sit in the car a couple hours a day; just sit in it and get comfortable with it," he recalled. "He told me if there was anything I wanted changed that that was the time to do it.

"After about a week-and-a-half, he said, 'you got the car right?' And I said, 'yeah, I think I got her.' And he said, 'what about the spare car?' I hadn't messed with that one. And he said, 'well get in that one too.' So I got 'em both just like I wanted. That really helped because I wasn't worried about having to make any big adjustments."

Now, with a fully-assembled spare car sitting in the hauler, Medlen is ready for any eventuality in a Gatornationals event won nine times in the last 13 years by a JFR Funny Car.

Eric Medlen at Gainesville:

Last year: Although he qualified third in the field, he was upset in round one by Jerry Toliver.

Notable: Is driving for the team that set the current Gainesville Raceway track record (4.779 seconds) back in 1999. It's the longest-standing record on the tour.

Quotable: "I haven't won a round at Gainesville, by my dad (crew chief John Medlen) has won it before (in 2002 with former driver Tony Pedregon)."

Television (all on ESPN2): Qualifying 12:30-2:30 a.m. (ET) Sunday; Racing 5-7 p.m. (ET) Sunday. Repeats on March 21, 2:30 a.m. (ET).

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Eric Medlen , John Medlen