MEDLEN ANXIOUS TO PUT TITLE BID BACK ON TRACK IN CSK NATIONALS Third Year Pro Eyeing Top 10 Spot After Slow Start PHOENIX, Ariz. (Feb. 24-26) -- Despite a less than spectacular showing at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals, it is a...
MEDLEN ANXIOUS TO PUT TITLE BID BACK ON TRACK IN CSK NATIONALS
Third Year Pro Eyeing Top 10 Spot After Slow Start
PHOENIX, Ariz. (Feb. 24-26) -- Despite a less than spectacular showing at the season-opening CARQUEST Winternationals, it is a confident Eric Medlen who rolls into the desert this week to contest the Funny Car championship at the 22nd annual Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.
"You may not have seen it at Pomona, but we've got a fast race car," Medlen said of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang in which he is chasing the 2006 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.
"The new motor program, the new Mustang body. My dad (crew chief John Medlen) made a lot of changes over the winter; a lot of real good changes."
That said, Medlen enters the season's second event sitting outside the Top 10 after losing to teammate Robert Hight in the first round two weeks ago at Pomona, Calif.
"You hate to have to run your teammate that early," Medlen said, "but it happens. Robert had the quickest time of the whole race against us (4.733 seconds) and you know what? Our car was a little quicker than his until it started to spin the tires down there (at half track). It was going to run (under 4.70).
"With a little more time, it's going to be one bad hombre."
Unfortunately, time isn't something that's on Medlen's side. The 32-year-old started slowly in each of his first two seasons on the tour before finishing with a flourish. Last year, that slow start probably cost him a shot at the championship.
Although he earned more points than anyone else in the category over the final 11 races while winning three races, in the end he couldn't chase down the Dodges of Gary Scelzi and Ron Capps and wound up fourth in points.
This year, his goal is not to lose contact with the front runners in the first half.
"We were changing to a new combination (last year) and it just took awhile for it to come around," Medlen said. "I know it looks like we're in the same situation this year, but we're not, really. We're way ahead of where we were a year ago."
The proof, of course, will have to come on the racetrack and at Firebird, Medlen's results have been mixed.
Although he's reached the semifinals each of the last two years, losing to former teammate Tony Pedregon in 2004 and to boss and mentor John Force and the Castrol GTX Ford a year ago, he's also been on fire, quite literally.
Last year, on the first of his Friday qualifying runs, the four-time NHRA tour winner rode out a major engine explosion and fire, the first of three he would endure during the course of the season.
That incident, which burned up all the wires, lines and hoses and destroyed the carbon fiber body, forced an unlikely complete re-build of the SYNTEC Ford between qualifying sessions. However, Medlen says it was that adversity that paved the way to victories later in the year at Seattle, Brainerd, Minn., and Memphis.
"That showed us what was possible," Medlen said, "and it brought us together. You know, when you're working with new crew guys, it takes awhile to form a bond but the process is accelerated when you're thrown into a situation like that."
A former high school rodeo champion, Medlen was preparing for a pro rodeo career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo when his dad called in 1996 to offer him a job as a mechanic at John Force Racing, Inc.
Although he had been waiting for just such an opportunity ever since his father began working as a professional crew chief, first for unknown Rudy Toepke, later for such notables as Don Prudhomme and Chuck Etchells, the younger Medlen wasn't really sure about what to do. Camarillo helped him make the decision.
"Jerold said, 'well, you know, 80 per cent of World Champions in roping are 30 and older. If it doesn't work out, you can come back and this will always be here. But if you pass it up, it might not ever come around again, so you've got to take your chance."
Medlen did. Now he's trying to make the most of it.