Phoenix: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN HOPES TO RODEO HIS WAY BACK INTO NO. 1 QUALIFYING SPOT Auto Club Pleasant Holidays Ford a Contender in CSK Nationals PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Contrary to what boss, teammate and mentor John Force has told the media, Eric Medlen never was a bull...

Auto Club Pleasant Holidays Ford a Contender in CSK Nationals

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Contrary to what boss, teammate and mentor John Force has told the media, Eric Medlen never was a bull rider. A cowboy, yes. A former high school rodeo champion, yes. A protege of two-time former Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association World Champion Jerold Camarillo, yes. A bull rider, no.

It's an irony not lost on the 33-year-old Californian who acknowledges that bull riding would have been ideal preparation for his current job -- riding herd on an 8,000 horsepower drag racing Funny Car in which he was the No. 1 qualifier for last year's Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals, the NHRA event that unfolds this week for the 23rd time at Charlie Allen's Firebird International Raceway.

Although it has demonstrated a propensity for fiery, bone-rattling explosions, the Automobile Club's Pleasant Holidays Ford Mustang also has carried Medlen to six NHRA tour victories and Top 5 finishes in each of his first three years at the controls.

When everything works as designed, Medlen's Mustang regularly zips from zero-to-320 miles per hour in less than 4.70 seconds. When it doesn't, like when the supercharger rotors blew completely apart during a pre-season test at Las Vegas, Nev., the talented bachelor quickly recalls all the reasons he didn't aspire to follow in the footsteps of world champion bull riders Jim Sharp, Tuff Hedeman and Ty Murray.

"My cousin, Butch, all he ever wanted to do was ride stuff," Medlen recalled. "There'd be an ol' dairy cow out there and Butch'd say 'let's see if we can rider 'er.' Well, all I ever wanted to do was rope. So I never really got into bull riding. I went to this ropin' school with Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper who, at the time, were like the five-time current world champs."

He became good enough for Camarillo to begin planning a return to the PRCA tour with Medlen as his team roping partner.

However, before he could toss his first loop, Medlen's career took an unexpected turn, one in which he exchanged horses for horsepower.

"I always wanted to work with my dad," he recalled, "but when he and my mom split up and he moved away, it didn't look like that was going to happen. That's when I started roping."

However, the elder Medlen, a talented mechanic, machinist and innovator, called just weeks before the start of rodeo season to ask his son if he wanted to come to work as a mechanic at John Force Racing. It was a difficult decision, one made somewhat easier by Camarillo's encouragement.

"He said I could always come back and rope," Medlen said. "That meant a lot because Jerold's like my second dad."

After eight years as a mechanic at JFR, the last seven working on Force's Castrol GTX Ford, Medlen was the boss's personal pick to take over the reins of the car maintained by his dad. It was a perfect pairing, one that yielded a breakthrough win in Medlen's rookie season, three more in his sophomore campaign and two last year.

He returns to Firebird off a second round exit two weeks ago in the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. While that might have been a disappointing result for most other drivers, it was a source of encouragement to Medlen.

"In three (previous) years, we never had won a round of racing in the (opener)," he said. "Now we've won a round and that's a start. Our goal this year was to do better the first half of the season to put ourselves in position for the Countdown (to the Championship). We feel pretty good about our position. The car is responding the way my dad wants. You just keep beating on it, trying to get quicker and faster.

"But It's just a great feeling to be a part of this team," he continued. "We have four Funny Cars that all are running pretty good; four cars that all qualified at Pomona. That's something to be proud of."


Did You Know:
In what little spare time he has, Eric Medlen builds custom chopper motorcycles for his own use. In fact, he sold one such bike to finance tuition for one of the several trips he made to Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School in the time before John Force tabbed him to drive one of his 320 mile-an-hour Ford Mustangs.

This is crew chief John Medlen's 12th season at John Force Racing. His car has won at least one race every year since 1996, first with Tony Pedregon, with whom he won the 2003 series championship, and the last three seasons with his son, Eric, in the harnesses.

-credit: jfr

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Eric Medlen , Frank Hawley , John Medlen