Rookie Flashes Championship Form in First Two Starts GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19-21) -- A "rookie mistake" may have cost Eric Medlen an NHRA POWERade tour victory two weeks ago at Phoenix, Ariz., but the 30-year-old former high school rodeo ...
Rookie Flashes Championship Form in First Two Starts
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (March 19-21) -- A "rookie mistake" may have cost Eric Medlen an NHRA POWERade tour victory two weeks ago at Phoenix, Ariz., but the 30-year-old former high school rodeo champion is using that misstep as motivation for this week's 35th annual Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
Medlen, who coaxed the Castrol SYNTEC Ford Mustang to the quickest competitive time of the Phoenix event (4.822 seconds), also had the event's worst starting line reaction time. The latter error ended his bid in the semifinals, allowing Tony Pedregon to advance.
"When you make a mistake like that, you want to make up for it right then," Medlen said.
"My dad (Crew Chief John Medlen) and the crew worked so hard. I wish we could have raced the next day. I've been looking forward to (the Gatornationals) for two weeks."
Despite his Phoenix faux pas, Medlen has done nothing in his first two races as a professional driver to blunt the enthusiasm of car owner and teammate John Force.
"Eric isn't the only driver that ever happened to," Force said of the rookie's loss at Phoenix. "The same thing happened to me (in a first round loss to Phil Burkart Jr.) and I've won 12 championships. It's part of learning. But he's a competitor. He'll come back better than ever.
He's great with the fans. He's great with the sponsors. He's great with the media. It makes me look good for choosing him.
"We didn't hesitate to put him in the SYNTEC Ford because he's going to have me and Gary Densham (driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford) to learn from," Force said.
Force, who tabbed the 30-year-old Medlen as his driver of the future, doesn't believe the move was a long shot.
"He didn't have much seat time in drag racing, but he knows competition," Force said. "He was a winner in rodeo and he was a key guy on my crew for the last seven years. He was the clutch man the last two years and, before that, he was the supercharger guy. You don't think there's pressure putting a car back together for the final round after the rods have been hanging out of it (the engine has expired)?"
As for Medlen, he's still reveling in the opportunity.
Driving the car that won last year's NHRA POWERade Championship, the native of Oakdale, Calif., was the No. 2 qualifier at the season-opening K&N Filters Winternationals after posting a career best time of 4.783 seconds. He followed up by qualifying fifth at Phoenix and reaching the semifinals.
That performance has propelled the first year driver into a tie for fifth place in points ahead of his boss.
"This is supposed to be a learning year but I'd be lying if I said that we didn't want to win," Medlen said. "This is a team that's used to winning and they're not going to be satisfied with anything less, no matter who's driving the car. I'm the weak link right now, but I'm trying not to be.
"When we ran good at Pomona, I told the media that I was going to make some rookie mistakes and then I did. Even though I knew it was bound to happen, that doesn't make me any happier about it. The key for me is to continue learning and you can learn a lot more from things you did wrong sometimes than things you did right."