Las Vegas: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN MAKES IT TO LAS VEGAS ON A HORSE INSTEAD OF A BULL Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Looms as Threat LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Fifteen years ago, when Eric Medlen first was introduced to rodeo while attending high school in Oakdale, Calif., he had...

MEDLEN MAKES IT TO LAS VEGAS ON A HORSE INSTEAD OF A BULL
Castrol SYNTEC Mustang Looms as Threat

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Fifteen years ago, when Eric Medlen first was introduced to rodeo while attending high school in Oakdale, Calif., he had absolutely no interest in what has become the sport's signature event: bull riding.

It simply was not on his agenda.

"My cousin, Butch, all he ever wanted to do was ride stuff," Medlen recalled. "There'd be an old dairy cow out there and Butch would say, 'let's see if we can ride 'er.' I never wanted to do that. Fact is, I thought (bull riders) were kinda nuts."

Instead, Medlen gravitated to calf roping, specifically team roping, a discipline in which, paired with two-time former PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo, he had hoped ultimately to earn a trip to the National Finals Rodeo.

It's ironic, then, that after shunning the toughest ride in rodeo, the 31-year-old bachelor would wind up driving the most outlandish and unpredictable vehicle in all of motor racing: a 7,000 horsepower, 330 mile-an-hour hybrid called, for reasons that remain wholly unclear, a Funny Car.

In fact, the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang in which Medlen will chase victory in this week in the SummitRacing.com Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is every bit as unpredictable and potent as a Brahma bull bred to buck.

The similarities became painfully clear two months ago at Phoenix, Ariz., when, at the end of a 300 mile-an-hour qualifying run, Medlen's Mustang was transformed from racehorse to bucking bronc, the result of a tire tread that separated from the tire carcass and literally beat the carbon fiber body into pieces.

In addition, the high speed vibration resulting from the imbalance between the two, 18-inch wide rear tires shook the chassis apart in four places.

To his credit, Medlen not only kept the car upright, he steered it away from boss and teammate John Force's Castrol GTX® Start Up® Ford which occupied the opposite lane and, even without brakes, got it slowed down enough to make the turnoff.

"I think we've got that one out of out system," Medlen said. "I didn't know what (had) happened. I thought maybe I threw the crank (crankshaft) out and had run over it. The thing is, that brought this team together. You're faced with that kind of problem, where you have to build a new car in basically two hours, man, that's tough.

"But to get everything changed over from that car to the spare car, mount a new body and then go out and run 4.80, that shows you what kind of team we have."

Indeed, it's a team that is poised to win again for Medlen, the second year pro who added an exclamation point to an impressive rookie season by earning a breakthrough victory last August at Brainerd, Minn. He currently is sixth in POWERade points, just one round behind the No. 4 driver, Tommy Johnson Jr.

"I've made more runs probably at Las Vegas than anywhere else," Medlen said, "so we're glad to be back here. I made my first runs here in 2003. Then we ran both national events last year and were back here to test in January (so) I think my dad (crew chief John Medlen) has a pretty good set up here."

As for his choices calf roping over bull riding and drag racing over rodeo Medlen has no regrets.

"I went to ropin' school with Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper who, at the time, were like the five-time current world champs," he said. "I was a little ahead of everybody else, so it was kinda neat because Jake Barnes, he kinda took me aside and worked with me on his own."

Despite his drag racing success, Medlen still takes time each year to polish his roping skills during trips home to Oakdale.

"Jerold told me to follow my dream and go drag racing," Medlen said. "He said if it didn't work out, I could always come back and we'd go roping."

So far, it's been working out.

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , John Medlen , Tommy Johnson Jr.