John Medlen Hopes to Make History with Son Eric as Driver SEATTLE, Wash. (July 23-25) -- Last year's trip to the CARQUEST Nationals at Pacific Raceways was a figurative back-breaker for John Medlen, crew chief on the Castrol SYNTECÂ® Ford...
John Medlen Hopes to Make History with Son Eric as Driver
SEATTLE, Wash. (July 23-25) -- Last year's trip to the CARQUEST Nationals at Pacific Raceways was a figurative back-breaker for John Medlen, crew chief on the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang that eventually would win the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.
Nevertheless, losing in the first round after qualifying just 13th isn't Medlen's worst Seattle memory. That is reserved for 1982 when the resident "mad scientist" at John Force Racing quite literally broke his back in a boat racing accident on Lake Lawrence.
"It was a brand new boat and I guess it was a little light in front," Medlen recalled. "It took off, just like a rocket, and dumped me out."
The damage wasn't done on the way up, though. It all occurred on the trip down from 40 feet high.
Lying in the hospital with broken vertebrae and numerous other injuries, Medlen awoke to a nurse with an attitude. Unaware of what the problem might be, he finally asked her, point blank, if he had done something to offend her. If he had, he said, he wanted to apologize.
"'Well,' she said, 'don't you think it would be a good idea to wear underwear when you're driving these boats,'" Medlen recalled. "I told her ma'am, I don't know what you're talking about. All I know is I had underwear on this morning when I left."
Apparently, when Medlen hit the water, the impact was such that it blew the crotch out of his underwear and blew his shorts up under his armpits.
"It was pretty embarrassing," he said.
These days, Medlen lives a somewhat less exciting life outside the cockpit. After 20 years of driving everything from go-karts to boats to Top Alcohol Dragsters, he now drives vicariously through his son, Eric, the new driver of the SYNTEC Mustang.
Last year, while his father was enduring a first round loss at Pacific Raceways, the younger Medlen was celebrating in the winners' circle as the clutch specialist on John Force's Castrol GTX® Ford.
It was Force, the 111-time tour winner, who decided to give the former high school rodeo champ a shot this year, at the same time re-uniting him with his crew chief/father in a feel good story that resumes with this week's 17th annual CARQUEST Nationals.
Nevertheless, as happy as he is to be racing with his dad, Eric is just as glad he wasn't with him when he crashed. He recalls a long, painful recovery.
"He would just kind of roll out of bed," Eric remembered. "We had to help him put his pants on, his shoes. He couldn't do anything, but he got to where he could halfway get around and that's when he started going to the gym with one of his best friends, Ray Costa. They got into power lifting and gradually he got better.
"Then, one night, they were bench pressing. My dad was bench pressing 315 pounds, I think, but those weights aren't really balanced. One 45-pounder came off and then 315 pounds came crashing down on his chest. That's where he got a hernia."
Despite all those problems, John Medlen survived to become one of the most respected crew chiefs in the business. After stints with Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme and others, he made the move to John Force Racing in 1996, overseeing the build-up of a second Funny Car which eventually led to a third.
In eight seasons, he won 27 times with Tony Pedregon but not one of those wins, not even the one clinching last year's championship, will be as emotional as his first win with his new driver. Now that would be a Seattle memory to end all others.
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