Rookie Makes Driving Debut in Mac Tools U.S. Nationals INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 3-6) -- When he traveled with his dad to the 1986 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and went to the starting line in Top Alcohol racer Rudy Toepke's tow truck, Eric ...
Rookie Makes Driving Debut in Mac Tools U.S. Nationals
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 3-6) -- When he traveled with his dad to the 1986 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and went to the starting line in Top Alcohol racer Rudy Toepke's tow truck, Eric Medlen thought he had gone to high speed heaven.
"After the burnout, I can remember sitting in the bed of that truck," Medlen recalled. "I still remember. It was a two-tone tan extended cab Ford dualie with a sleeper box on it. I'm in the back and I'm thinking, 'man, I'm really somebody. I'm up here at the starting line at the U.S. Nationals.'
"I was in the back of a truck, parked off to the side, but I'm thinking, 'what could be better than this?'"
When he went with the crew to the winners' circle 10 years later to celebrate John Force's "double-up" victories in the Big Bud Shootout AND the U.S. Nationals, he thought for sure he had seen and done it all.
However, it seems like the hits just keep coming for the 31-year-old who this week will revisit Indianapolis Raceway Park in yet another capacity as the rookie driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang prepared and maintained by his father, John.
"It's pretty cool that your first Indy (as a driver) is the 50th Anniversary," Medlen said. "It makes you feel special, but I'm trying not to get too caught up in it because, if you get too emotional, you find yourself thinking, 'geez, I can't win this. This is Indy.'"
Indeed, instead of focusing on the history and tradition of the world's most prestigious single drag racing event, Medlen is trying to treat the Nationals like it was just another drag race which, from the standpoint of the 2004 POWERade Championship, is exactly what it is.
Currently fifth in the driver standings just 76 points out of second place, Medlen is considered, if not a favorite, then certainly a contender for Monday's U.S. Nationals Funny Car Championship.
A former high school rodeo champion and once aspiring professional calf roper, the Indianapolis resident already is as comfortable in the cockpit of a 325 mile-an-hour race car as he is in the saddle.
"I was comfortable in the car from day one," he said. "Because of living it as a crewman every day for eight years, watching everything John did, everything Tony (Pedregon) did, everything (Gary) Densham did, I knew I could drive it.
"The only thing I wasn't comfortable with was myself up against the competition," he continued. "You think about (Whit) Bazemore or (Ron) Capps or (Del) Worsham or (Gary) Scelzi and you know those guys have a lot of experience on you.
"But that's the thing you've got to put out of your mind. That's the stuff that will eat at you just like if you think of Indy as something that's bigger than life. My dad told me 'you drive this car. Don't drive everybody else's car. Don't try to out-think it, just get in there and drive it.'"
Apparently, he took that advice to heart because three weeks ago, in only his 16th race of any kind as a race car driver, he beat Scelzi in the final round at Brainerd, Minn., to earn his first career victory and thrust himself prominently into contention for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award presented to the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year.
A big Monday at Indy probably would seal the deal, which is something else Medlen doesn't want to think about -- at least not right now.