Rookie Returns Home as POWERade Championship Contender SONOMA, Calif. (July 30 - Aug. 1) -- Eric Medlen tuned up for this week's 17th annual Fram/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway by climbing aboard a horse different in every way from...
Rookie Returns Home as POWERade Championship Contender
SONOMA, Calif. (July 30 - Aug. 1) -- Eric Medlen tuned up for this week's 17th annual Fram/Autolite Nationals at Infineon Raceway by climbing aboard a horse different in every way from the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang he drove to track record speeds at the first two events in the current Western Swing.
Currently fifth in POWERade Funny Car points and one of the leading contenders for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award (NHRA Rookie-of-the-Year), Medlen returned home on Monday to Oakdale, Calif., "The Cowboy Capital of North America," where he re-acquainted himself with a horse named Little Rock.
Reuniting with Oakdale resident Jerold Camarillo, the two-time former PRCA world champion, Medlen "ran a few calves" on Tuesday, showing off the skills that more than a decade ago made him a high school rodeo champion.
It was the drag racing equivalent of re-qualifying for his competition license -- just in case he might someday need or want it.
After all, he once seriously had considered a rodeo career as Camarillo's team roping partner. The two had gone so far as to map out a tentative schedule when Medlen's father, John, called with an offer his son ultimately could not refuse the chance to go to work as a race car mechanic at John Force Racing.
Still, it wasn't an easy choice for the now 30-year-old bachelor.
Although his dream always had been to work with his dad in racing, the younger Medlen had begun to believe that it would never happen. In fact, even after his dad's call, Medlen still was skeptical. For advice, he went to Camarillo.
"Jerold told me that 80 per cent of World Champions in roping are 30 and older," Medlen said. "He said I always could come back and rope. 'If I was you,' he said, 'I think you oughta go (racing). If it doesn't work out, this will always be here, but if you pass it up, it might never come around again, so you've got to take your chance.'"
It was exactly the kind of honest evaluation Medlen needed.
"It meant a lot," he said, "because I know he wanted me to stay. That brought us together pretty close."
That's what makes this week's race especially significant for the rookie. It's the closest tour stop to Oakdale and, as a result, the town will turn out in mass to back its favorite son.
In addition to Camarillo, who now trains aspiring calf ropers on a ranch on which he also trains horses and breeds his own roping stock, the Oakdale entourage this week will include Medlen's mother Mimi, his uncle Steve Medlen, cousin Butch Medlen and a host of other friends and relatives.
Although he hadn't driven a car of any kind in an NHRA national event before this season, Medlen was and is an accomplished kart driver who believes that the skills he developed in shifter-karts helped him adapt more quickly to the Funny Car.
He also believes that his eight years as a crewman, the last seven working on the Castrol GTX® Start Up™ Ford of boss and now teammate John Force, helped immensely.