Rookie-of-the-Year Candidate Back on Track at Reading READING, Pa. (Sept. 17-19) -- His dad's decision to swap motors before first round racing two weeks ago at Indianapolis, Ind., may have sealed Eric Medlen's fate in the 50th annual Mac...
Rookie-of-the-Year Candidate Back on Track at Reading
READING, Pa. (Sept. 17-19) -- His dad's decision to swap motors before first round racing two weeks ago at Indianapolis, Ind., may have sealed Eric Medlen's fate in the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, a race he exited in the first round when the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford he is driving this year for John Force Racing, Inc., overpowered the racetrack and lost traction.
However, that engine change may also have thrust the younger Medlen back into contention with Pro Stock driver Jason Line for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award which annually identifies the NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year.
That competition is one of the more intriguing subplots that will play out this week when the NHRA POWERade Series moves to Maple Grove Raceway for the 20th annual Lucas Oil Nationals.
"We've had a problem with power," said John Medlen, crew chief on the car driven by his 31-year-old son. "The engines are identical," he said, "and so are all the components. There's really no reason why one (engine) should be better than the other, but when we put the other motor in, it picked right up (produced more power).
"We had it tuned up just like the (other one), but it had a lot more pop. Eric couldn't have done anything with it. The good news is that the power apparently is back and we're cautiously optimistic (about this weekend's event)."
If Medlen's 7,000 horsepower race car is back on track, the timing couldn't be better -- for both himself and his boss.
"We need to be in a position where we can help John if we match up with one of the other guys (Gary Scelzi, Whit Bazemore and Del Worsham, the three drivers who trail Force in the current standings)," Medlen said. "Plus, we'd like to win another race or two. Heck, I'd like to win the rest of them, but that's probably not going to happen."
While a sweep of the season's final five events is unlikely, a victory -- or even two -- isn't beyond the realm of possibility.
In fact, Medlen has overachieved in his first season as driver of the car in which Tony Pedregon won the championship a year ago. In addition to a breakthrough first victory last month at Brainerd, Minn., he was runner-up at Atlanta, Ga., qualified No. 1 at Englishtown, N.J., and presently is sixth in NHRA POWERade Funny Car points.
Normally, such a performance already would have earned him the rookie honor. But this isn't a normal season and Line, a former NHRA Champion in Stock Eliminator (1993), has rung up even more impressive credentials -- winning three times for teammate and mentor Greg Anderson, the reigning NHRA Pro Stock champion.
Medlen grew up around engines and race cars working after school and on weekends at his dad's machine shop in Oakdale, Calif. However, when a divorce led his father to relocate in Russellville, Ark., Eric opted to stay with his mother. It was a difficult decision, one that briefly led the youngster down a very different career path.
Living in a town hailed as the "Rodeo Capital of America," Medlen naturally gravitated away from horsepower and toward horseflesh.
In fact, he was planning a pro rodeo career as the team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo, also of Oakdale, when he got a call from his dad offering him a job at Force Racing, one that eight years later landed him the most coveted ride in the sport.
"To be able to do this, especially with my dad, is just unbelievable," Medlen said.