MEDLEN AIMS FOR 'CONTROLLED BURN' IN BID FOR POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP Third Year Pro Riding Momentum from Strong 2005 Finish POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- Over the last half the 2005 season, Eric Medlen was on fire, both literally and ...
MEDLEN AIMS FOR 'CONTROLLED BURN' IN BID FOR POWERADE CHAMPIONSHIP
Third Year Pro Riding Momentum from Strong 2005 Finish
POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 9-12) -- Over the last half the 2005 season, Eric Medlen was on fire, both literally and figuratively.
That said, his bid to win the 2006 NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship, which commences with this week's 46th annual CARQUEST Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, largely will hinge upon his ability to eliminate the former and sustain the latter.
The 32-year-old's 2005 season could have ended with the catastrophic engine failure that applied a spectacular exclamation point to his semifinal victory over Tommy Johnson Jr. at last November's Auto Club Finals.
The engine explosion sent Medlen's Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang careening into the sand pit at the end of Auto Club Raceway at speed. Looking at the carnage, most would have simply thrown in the towel. After all, the chassis was broken in four places, the wiring was melted, the body was destroyed. Ditto the engine.
However, in a Herculean effort initiated by car owner and 13-time series champion John Force, Medlen's crew, aided by an army of John Force Racing employees and friends, managed to brace and weld the chassis, rebuild the engine, rewire the entire car and drag it back to the starting line in time for the final round.
It mattered not that Medlen shut off after only a few feet, watching Tony Pedregon drive away for the victory. That's because the drama that played out in the Medlen pit will be remembered long after winners and losers are forgotten.
"To me, that proved what's possible when you apply yourself," Medlen said. "Everybody was focused on one goal. That goal wasn't really to win, it was to compete; it was to get a race car to the starting line against the biggest odds you could imagine."
In fact, the odds that Medlen's car would start, that it would roll and that it would execute the obligatory burnout sequence were much longer than are the odds against the former rodeo cowboy winning this year's championship.
The fact is, Medlen was the hottest driver in the category over the season's final 11 races. He won three times in that span and was the top points earner after the mid- season break, earning 787 points to 752 for Ron Capps and 734 for eventual champion Gary Scelzi.
Now, with a new 2006 Ford Mustang body at his disposal and a bevy of new ideas emanating from his mad scientist/crew chief/father, John, the younger Medlen can't wait to get back on track.
This week's race is particularly important to the former high school calf roping champion and aspiring PRCA team roper.
"Last year, we got off to a terrible start and we just never caught up," he said. "The fact that we managed to finish fourth is just a testament to the fact that this crew never gave up. We were back in eighth place and John and Robert (Hight, the 2005 Rookie of the Year) were setting the world on fire.
"But we just stuck with it, my dad got a handle on what was a new combination for us and everything just came together. Now we've got to keep it together."
Like his Next Generation teammate, Robert Hight, Medlen got most of his experience from outside the cockpit in his eight years as a JFR crewman, seven of them spent working on Force's Castrol GTX® entry first as the supercharger technician and later as the clutch specialist.
He had not driven competitively in anything other than shifter karts before 2004 when he was Force's surprise pick to replace departed 2003 series champion Tony Pedregon.