Memphis: Eric Medlen preview

'TINY ELVIS' ROCKS AS NHRA PRO TOUR ROLLS TO MEMPHIS MOTORSPORTS PARK Castrol SYNTEC Driver Seeks Third Win in Last Four Races MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The headline "Tiny Elvis Casts Giant Shadow" might be a little misleading coming as it does just...

Castrol SYNTEC Driver Seeks Third Win in Last Four Races

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The headline "Tiny Elvis Casts Giant Shadow" might be a little misleading coming as it does just days after the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

In this case, however, the reference is not to the legendary "King of Rock 'n Roll" but rather to a 32-year-old Elvis lookalike who rolls into Memphis Motorsports Park this week as the hottest Funny Car driver in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Eric Medlen, who has driven the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang to victory in two of the last three events in 23-race NHRA series, is a fun-loving, rock-and-roll singing, air guitar-playing bachelor who has emerged as a legitimate contender for the $400,000 championship.

The "Tiny Elvis" tag was applied by Jay Wells, a public relations rep for Morgan Lucas who, along with Medlen, Brandon Bernstein and Ashley Force, is part of drag racing's new "brat pack."

"He's got the hair, he's got the moves, he plays guitar and he sings. He's 'Tiny Elvis,'" Wells said of the former high school rodeo champion.

It isn't a nickname with which Medlen is particularly comfortable, but at this week's 18th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals, it seems all too apropos. After all, this is the event in which Medlen's boss, mentor and teammate, 13-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force, had an epiphany in 1992 after his car blew up, burst into flames, hit the guardwall and barrel-rolled. Climbing out of the charred wreckage, Force declared "I saw Elvis at 1,000 feet."

Force saw Elvis again just last week, but this time it was the aforementioned "Tiny Elvis," who used a starting line advantage to upset the 12-time Auto Racing All-America selection in the final round of the Lucas Nationals at Brainerd, Minn.

"People make a lot of assumptions," Medlen said, referring to the expectation on the part of many last week that he would defer to Force, who could have moved into second place with a Brainerd victory. "They forget that all three of these Castrol Fords have won this year and we're all in the (championship) race.

"Our philosophy is 'win together; lose together,'" Medlen said. "John's the one who taught us that. He's a great motivator, obviously. Every team he's had has been successful. You just have to learn from him and do it his way and it works. It works good."

Ironically, Medlen was just an afterthought at the end of the first half of the season as his father and crew chief (John Medlen) struggled to adapt to a new combination.

At the break, he was in eighth place, winless and struggling to remain in the Top 10. He was 213 points behind Force and had just suffered the worst engine failure and fire of his career.

Six weeks and two victories later, he is fifth, the position in which he finished a year ago, and he's just 107 points behind current leader Robert Hight, his teammate.

"I've just got a lot of confidence in this car right now," Medlen explained. "It's responding to the changes my dad makes to it. It's just a good hot rod. All the hard work and all the trouble we had early in the year, the pendulum swinging our way now."

As for the nickname, Medlen is non-committal.

"Back home, my uncle Steve (Medlen, John's brother) has always called me 'Duff,'" Medlen said. "I don't know why, but that's how it's always been. I guess he didn't see any similarity to Elvis when we were growing up. But I'll answer to just about anything as long as I get to keep racing."

At the rate he's going, "champ" has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

* * * *

Did You Know? Eric was a rodeo champion at Oakdale (Calif.) High School who, before becoming a crewman on the car he now drives (in 1996), was contemplating a pro career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo, an Oakdale neighbor....Eric never had driven a car in competition at any level before he got his chance last year in the Castrol SYNTEC Ford in which Tony Pedregon won the 2003 series title. He responded by winning once and finishing fifth in points as the top rookie in the Funny Car addition to his driving duties, Eric also supervises paint and decal placement on all three Ford Mustangs in the John Force Racing stable as well as on Ashley Force's Castrol/Hot Wheels dragster. He also painted the custom helmets worn by every team member....last year, in his first appearance in the O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals, Eric qualified sixth but lost to Phil Burkart Jr. in round one.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Ashley Force , Phil Burkart , Brandon Bernstein , Eric Medlen , Robert Hight , John Medlen