MEDLEN REGROUPS FOR RETURN TO FIREBIRD Second Year Driver Tries to Shake Off Pomona Mistake PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Eric Medlen, who once planned a career in pro rodeo, tries to borrow a page from his bull riding brethren this week in an effort...
MEDLEN REGROUPS FOR RETURN TO FIREBIRD
Second Year Driver Tries to Shake Off Pomona Mistake
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Eric Medlen, who once planned a career in pro rodeo, tries to borrow a page from his bull riding brethren this week in an effort to put his bid for the 2005 NHRA POWERade Funny Car championship back on track.
The second year driver, who enjoyed a spectacular rookie season at the wheel of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Funny Car, winning once, starting twice from the No. 1 qualifying position and finishing fifth in driver points, is trying to put behind him a starting line error that sent his team to an early exit two weeks ago in the season-opening NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.
"I feel like a bull rider that didn't make it (to the buzzer)," Medlen said of a foul start that negated a career best 4.722 second quarter mile qualifying run. "I feel real bad for the (crew) guys, because they gave me a great car; a car that could win.
"All you can do, really, is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, try to learn from the experience, and climb right back on the bull."
In Medlen's case, the "bull" actually is a horse, a 7,000 horsepower hybrid Mustang capable of accelerating from zero-to-330 miles per hour in 4.6 seconds. It's a ride that subjects the 31-year-old to G-forces five times the normal on acceleration and a negative five upon deployment of two massive braking parachutes.
It's an exhilarating ride, but one that loses some of its allure when it doesn't come with a win light attached.
Still, Medlen is excited about his sophomore season in the harnesses of a race car prepared and maintained by his childhood hero and father John Medlen. This year, though, he is equally amped up about being re-united with former crewmate Robert Hight, new driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang.
Hight and Medlen worked together on the crew that made John Force and the Castrol GTX® Ford almost unbeatable in the late 1990s. Medlen was the supercharger specialist; Hight did the clutch. Both spent extra time learning everything about fuel Funny Cars from Austin Coil and Bernie Fedderly, the crew chiefs who have transformed John Force Racing into one of the last true sports dynasties, one that has won 12 consecutive NHRA Funny Car titles.
The two young drivers, neither of whom previously had driven competitively, are part of Force's master plan to insure his team's success into the next decade.
"People always were asking where the new drivers were going to come from," Force said. "When Tony (Pedregon) left (to form his own team after winning the 2003 championship), we looked around and the answer was staring right at us.
"We put Eric in the car last year. We knew we were taking a chance, but he did the job for SYNTEC and Ford and when we went to sell the sponsors on Robert, they were a lot more receptive. If Eric didn't succeed, Robert probably would be in the car."
While there is a natural rivalry between the two, Hight and Medlen also have a mutual respect. In fact, each believes the other will make him a better driver.
"Robert is extremely good at concentration skills because of (his development as a target shooter)," Medlen said. "He's got some different techniques and different things he does and I'm going to work with him because I'm willing to do anything to help me get better.
"There's always that little bit of team rivalry, but if you can't let down your guard enough to say, 'man, can you help me?' then what the hell good is it to have a team concept. You've gotta have communication and we've always been able to talk.'"
For his part, Hight believes that Medlen's rookie experience will help him avoid some of the pitfalls common to new drivers.
"Eric's been a big help," Hight said. "He had John and Gary (Densham) to teach him, but it had been a long time since either one of them was a rookie. So a lot of the things, he had to learn for himself. I'm fortunate because he's been able to walk me through those things because he already lived them."