TOPEKA, Kan. (May 28-30) -- As the new driver of the Castrol SYNTECÂ® Ford Mustang, the Funny Car that won last year's NHRA Funny Car championship, rookie Eric Medlen has been under a considerable amount of pressure to perform at levels that,...
TOPEKA, Kan. (May 28-30) -- As the new driver of the Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, the Funny Car that won last year's NHRA Funny Car championship, rookie Eric Medlen has been under a considerable amount of pressure to perform at levels that, for most first-year drivers, would be unrealistic.
Nevertheless, the former high school rodeo champion has been surprisingly competitive (four semifinal appearances in eight professional starts) on an NHRA POWERade tour that moves this week to Heartland Park-Topeka for the O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX®.
Actually, the pressure to which the 30-year-old has been subjected as successor to the departed Tony Pedregon is nothing, he says, compared to the pressure he was under as the supercharger technician and later the clutch specialist on John Force's all-conquering Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang.
In fact, Medlen was the point man in the 2001 development of a new "back set" supercharger design that today is the latest "must have" for those in the go-fast fraternity.
"I was involved in a lot of the development work on the back set blower," Medlen said. "We were the first ones (to modify the supercharger to provide more even air distribution to the cylinders) and it was a little nerve wracking.
"A blower is about $8,500," he said, "and it's magnesium which, first of all, can catch on fire and burn everything up. Number two, it's $8,500 bucks. And three, it's (crew chief Austin Coil's) favorite blower.
"Like you'll have nine blowers and he'll run one blower until the thing is about wore out," Medlen explained. "It's like your favorite T-shirt.
"So he brings this to you and says, 'well, this is going to make this blower better, but I've got things to do, so I want you to machine this blower and cut the case and cut this all out but don't screw it up. Oh, and by the way, we need to have that on the dyno in a couple hours.
"So you're setting the machine up to cut this thing," Medlen said, "and you're going, 'well, I'm pretty sure that it's right.' And so you start to cut and there are a few chips and you just stop and turn the machine off.
"And you go, 'Aww, man, I don't know. What if it's not right?' So then you ask (Coil) and he yells at you, 'of course it's right. I told you how to do it. Just shut up and cut it.'"
Which he did.
Handling that kind of pressure and the between-rounds pressure of servicing one of the world's fastest race cars helped make Medlen's transition to driver much less traumatic.
"You can't replace physical driving experience," said the NHRA Rookie-of-the Year candidate, "but I think the fact that I worked on the crew for eight years helped speed up the learning curve.
"This is only my ninth race as a driver, but I went down the track a thousand times with John. Every time he went up to the starting line, I was picturing myself going through everything. When he was warming the car up, I'd watch him. I watched everything."
Based on early results, he not only watched, he learned.
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