Las Vegas: Eric Medlen preview

Castrol SYNTEC Driver Semifinalist at Last Two Tour Events LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7-9) -- The nickname Eric Medlen has applied to the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang in which he is chasing the 2006 NHRA Funny Car championship should strike a ...

Castrol SYNTEC Driver Semifinalist at Last Two Tour Events

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (April 7-9) -- The nickname Eric Medlen has applied to the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang in which he is chasing the 2006 NHRA Funny Car championship should strike a respondent chord this week when the NHRA POWERade drag racing tour moves to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the seventh renewal of the Nationals.

"Eric calls the car 'Montecore' (after the white tiger that injured Roy Horn during a Siegfried and Roy performance three years ago at The Mirage)," explained John Medlen, father and crew chief to the four-time tour winner. "He knows that the car can be his best friend, but he knows that it also can bite him."

Medlen, a 32-year-old former crewman for 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force, respects the power of the 7,000 horsepower Ford, but doesn't fear it even after a series of engine explosions and a memorable trip off the end of the track and into the sand pit at last November's Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif.

"The NHRA maintains the toughest safety standards out there," he said, "and that gives you a lot of confidence. That said, these still are 330 mile-an-hour race cars and they can turn on you pretty quick."

Ironically, while driving a Funny Car is considered to be the drag racing equivalent of riding a bull, Medlen never entertained bull riding ambitions during the time he was considering a career in pro rodeo.

"I never really wanted to ride bulls or broncs or anything," Medlen said. "I left that to my cousin Butch. There'd be an ol' dairy cow out there and Butch'd say 'let's see if we can ride 'er.' I was more into roping."

In fact, growing up in Oakdale, Calif., he was a high school rodeo champion in that discipline and was contemplating a pro career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA champion Jerold Camarillo when he was offered a job as a mechanic at John Force Racing in 1996.

Eight years later, when Tony Pedregon left the team after winning the 2003 POWERade championship, Medlen was offered the job even though he had no previous competitive driving experience.

He responded by winning a race in his rookie season and finishing fifth in the NHRA POWERade driver standings. Last year, his second in the cockpit, he won three times and finished fourth behind Gary Scelzi, Ron Capps and Force.

This year, despite a typically slow start, Medlen believes he has a race car capable of winning back the championship for John Force Racing, Inc. A semifinalist at each of the last two races, he is excited about returning to LVMS for a race he almost missed just a year ago.

Fighting through problems related to a change in the engine/clutch combination, he qualified 16th -- dead last -- and lost in the first round to Scelzi.

"First job this week is to get qualified in the top half of the field," Medlen said. "I don't want to be in the position we were in last April when we almost didn't make the show -- but it happens. We have a lot of new crew guys this year and it's a matter of them learning how to do things exactly right instead of almost right. Almost right doesn't work over here."

A prime example was last week's race at Houston where, during the obligatory pre-race warmup, there was a problem. After the team had changed ignition systems, control boxes, magnetos and, finally, the entire engine, a post-race autopsy identified the problem as a brand new part, a degree wheel, that had been improperly assembled at the factory.

"Over the years, when we've had problems (at JFR), we've put in a lot of different checks and balances, even on brand new parts. Somebody assumed that because it was a new part, it was fine and you can't assume anything. There are four magnets in the degree wheel and what happened was one of them was installed upside down. We had positive polarity on three and negative on one so we were getting a lot of bad data.

"Monday (during testing at Houston), we put the same exact motor back in the car, didn't change anything but the degree wheel, and it went out there and (ran incrementals equal to the) 4.721 (like it did on the last qualifying run)."

* * * *

Eric Medlen was the No. 1 qualifier last February at Phoenix, Ariz. He has started at least one race from the "pole" in each of his three seasons at John Force Racing. Inc.

Eric is a historically slow starter. In races completed before the traditional mid-season break in July, he is 30-28 in head-to-head competition with no victories. In races AFTER the break, he is 37-18 with four wins.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Eric Medlen , John Medlen