Rookie a Contender in NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas always was a career destination for Eric Medlen, but the 30-year-old native of Oakdale, the northern California town that bills itself as "The Cowboy Capital of the World," thought that when he arrived he'd be riding one horse, not 7,000.
 As a high school team roping champion, Medlen's dream was to earn his way into the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo contested each December at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
 Instead, he'll step into the Vegas spotlight this week as the rookie driver of the 7,000 horsepower Castrol SYNTEC® Ford Mustang, one of the world's quickest and fastest racing vehicles.
 Medlen will be aiming for a breakthrough first career victory when he
competes in the fifth annual Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
 His bid is bolstered by the fact that he is driving for a team that has won 11 straight NHRA series championships in a car that won the last two races contested at LVMS including last October's AC/Delco Nationals.
 "It's hard to believe that 10 years ago I was shoveling out horse stalls in Oakdale," Medlen said, "and here I am today driving a Ford Funny Car for John Force, the winningest driver in drag racing history.  And the bonus is that I'm racing with my dad (John Medlen) as my Crew Chief."
 Even though Medlen came from a rodeo background, the protege of 1975 World Champion team roper Jerold Camarillo, he never was far removed from auto racing.
 "Growing up, my dad had a machine shop and we always raced something," Medlen recalled.  "Stock cars, hydroplane boats plus he had his Alcohol car.  Then he and my mom split up.  I was in about seventh grade.  That was a pretty tough deal.  I wanted to go with my dad, but I wanted to stay with my mom, too. 
Medlen at Nationals   

 "When my dad left (Oakdale), he worked for (Don) Prudhomme, (Kenny) Bernstein, Gene Snow.  So everytime you'd go to see him, you'd be around race cars.  The deal was, I wanted to be with him, but I couldn't, so rodeo-ing is what I did."
 Medlen got into horses through his mother's side of the family.  After a couple of misadventures in high school wrestling and football, he decided to try rodeo at the suggestion of his cousin, Butch.  Ultimately, he wound up under Camarillo's tutelage.    
 "In high school rodeo, I did fairly good," Medlen said.  "My senior year, I went to the state finals (where he placed first in team roping and third in individual calf roping).  I always used Jerold's horses.  That's another thing, (Jerold) taught me how to train these calf-roping horses."
 As a result, when his dad finally called to offer him the position about which he long had dreamed (crewman for a top-of-the-line drag racing team), Medlen was torn between his two loves ¿ horses and horsepower.
 Ironically, it was Camarillo who finally told him to take the job his father had offered him at John Force Racing.
 "He said, 'most of the best ropers are in theirs 30s,'" Medlen recalled, "He said I could always come back home."
 Unfortunately for his rodeo-ing friends, Medlen's riding, at least for the immediate future, looks like it'll be confined to the unique breed of Mustang stabled at the JFR shops in Yorba Linda, Calif.  Based on early performance, rodeo's loss likely will be drag racing's gain.
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3 Number of races as a pro Funny Car driver.
8 Years as a crewman at John Force Racing.
9 Position in current POWERade point standings.
27 Number of tour victories for the Castrol SYNTEC Ford the last six seasons under
 the direction of Crew Chief John Medlen.
--The Castrol SYNTEC Ford won both of the races contested at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2003 with former driver Tony Pedregon at the controls.
--As the clutch specialist on John Force's Castrol GTX High Mileage¿ Ford Mustang, Medlen was a key member of the crew that helped Force win the 2002 AC/Delco
Las Vegas Nationals at The Strip.
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Eric paid his own way to Frank Hawley's Driving School using money from the sale of three racing shifter-karts and a "chopper" motorcycle he built for himself at a cost of $30,000....Eric studied mechanical engineering at Terra Technical University in Fremont, Ohio while at the same time working as a machinist at Callies Crankshafts,
Inc....Eric credits his karting experience for giving him a "seat of the pants" feel for a Funny Car.