Seattle: Eric Medlen preview

MEDLEN HOPES TO AVOID BUMPS IN DRIVE FOR CARQUEST VICTORY Castrol SYNTEC Ford Among Funny Car Favorites SEATTLE, Wash. -- When Eric Medlen walks the Pacific Raceways quarter mile this week in advance of the 18th annual CARQUEST Northwest ...

Castrol SYNTEC Ford Among Funny Car Favorites

SEATTLE, Wash. -- When Eric Medlen walks the Pacific Raceways quarter mile this week in advance of the 18th annual CARQUEST Northwest Nationals, a ritual he and his dad, crew chief John Medlen, perform before every event in the 23-race NHRA POWERade Series, he won't necessarily like what he sees or what he feels.

Bumps, dips, "bald spots" (where the rubber doesn't adhere to the surface), rough spots, a groove that narrows or one that is poorly defined. All of those are things that, if identified during the walkthrough, can be addressed during competition.

At PR, formerly Seattle International Raceway, the primary problem is a bump in the left lane, one that likely will come into play during Sunday eliminations.

"The bump is 700 or 800 feet (downtrack) and you're probably going 280," said the man who last year drove the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang to a track record speed of 318.62 miles per hour, "but it isn't as bad to the outside of the lane as it is in the middle or to the inside.

"So, at 280 miles-an-hour, if you can just get it scooted over a little bit to the outside to miss the biggest part of the bump, you've got a better chance of beating the guy in the other lane, the smoother lane," he said. "Of course, if you move too far over, you're out of the groove and it's going to pull you over to the wall."

That's just one of the subtle challenges drivers face every week in a sport that too often is portrayed as nothing more than a reaction time contest. According to Medlen, a 31-year-old Californian who 10 years ago was considering a career in pro rodeo, a lot of driving goes on in 1,320 feet of supposedly straight-line racing.

"There's a lot of stuff to do," he said. "You leave the starting line, you drive probably the first 60 feet with one hand because you're letting go of the brake. By the time you get to 60 feet, you're going a hundred miles an hour and you can't see because of the vibration and the G forces.

"Plus, you've gotta go from intense concentration on the Christmas Tree (the electronic starting device) to, 'where you are, where you gotta go, what the car's doing,'" he explained. "Is it shaking? Is it shaking bad enough where you've gotta pedal it (feather the throttle)? Did it drop a cylinder? 'Cause if it drops a cylinder (suffers a misfire in the engine) early in the run and you drive it all the way through, which sometimes you've gotta do to try and get the win light, there's a good chance the thing is gonna disintegrate right in your face.

"It's not just hit the pedal, hit the chutes (the twin braking parachutes that slow the 8,000 horsepower hybrid from 330 miles per hour)," he said.

"The main thing is these cars never go straight. Never. (Top Fuel) dragsters go straight because they're, well, 300 inches long," Medlen said. "You steer 'em and usually they respond. A Funny Car is only 120 inches long and there's never a time when you could say, 'wow, this is a good ride; nice and straight.'

"It never wants to go the way you want it to go," said last year's top Funny Car rookie, "and you can't just steer it back (into the groove), you have to wrestle it back and it fights you the whole way.

Even the obligatory tire-smoking burnout requires a certain technique.

"You've gotta not heat the clutch up because if the clutch gets hot you'll smoke the tires or it'll throw the clutch out and put it right in your lap," he said. "And you can't run too much fuel out of it or it'll make the front end light and change the balance. It's not just for show; it has a purpose."

The purpose is to help Medlen win on Sunday. All he'll have to do is make a perfect burnout, leave the starting line on time, make a few course corrections at speed, keep his car between the boundaries, turn on the win light and get the thing stopped before it runs out of asphalt and do it four straight times. Piece of cake.

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Did You Know? Eric is a former high school rodeo champion who, before becoming a crewman on the car he now drives (in 1996), was contemplating a pro career as team roping partner to two-time PRCA World Champion Jerold Camarillo ....when Eric's predecessor, Tony Pedregon, drove to victory at Seattle in 2002, he did so with crew chief John Medlen calling in tuning decisions from home, where he was recuperating from a medical procedure....last year, after qualifying second, Eric beat Tony Pedregon before losing to Whit Bazemore....Bross Holland, the clutch specialist on the Castrol SYNTEC Ford, is a native of Ephrata, Wash.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , Eric Medlen , John Medlen