Eric Medlen (August 13, 1973, Oakdale, CA – March 23, 2007, Gainesville, Florida)
Eric Medlen was a dedicated, talented and charismatic young driver seemingly destined for drag racing greatness when, at age 33, his life was cut tragically short by fatal injuries suffered while testing his Funny Car the morning after the 2007 NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.
Although his death devastated friends, family and fans, it served as a catalyst for change that led to John Force Racing’s development of the “Eric Medlen Chassis,” the first major redesign of the drag racing Funny Car in almost 30 years.
Spearheaded by Eric’s father and crew chief, John Medlen, Force’s long-time crew chief Austin Coil and racecar safety specialist Dr. John Melvin, the Brownsburg, Ind.-based Eric Medlen Project ultimately delivered a car that addressed all the issues that contributed to the younger Medlen’s fatal brain injuries. Elements of that re-design ultimately were adapted throughout the sport, assuring a legacy of which Eric would have been exceedingly proud.
“He’s left such a powerful legacy for us to follow and it’s up to us to continue his good work,” said Morgan Lucas, President of Lucas Oil Products. “His spirit dwells in us all and we’re better off for it.” “Eric was the kindest, most genuine person you would ever hope to meet,” said fellow racer Brandon Bernstein who, along with Morgan Lucas and J.R. Todd, was one of Medlen’s best friends. “He was always upbeat and he could conjure a smile out of you no matter how down in the dumps you were.”
For instance, if Medlen encountered a friend who was having a particularly bad day at the office, whether that office was a race car cockpit or something else entirely, he would suggest a bowl of ice cream because, he said, “nobody can be unhappy when they’re eating ice cream.”
A champion calf roper in high school, Medlen was considering a pro rodeo career as team roping partner to mentor and former World Champion Cowboy Jerold Camarillo when in 1998 he was afforded the opportunity to go to work at JFR as a mechanic on Force’s Funny Car in the same shop that employed his dad.
When team driver Tony Pedregon left JFR to go out on his own in 2004, Force took the first step in what would become a successful next generation development program when he offered Eric the opportunity to drive the Castrol SYNTEC Funny Car in which his dad had shared a world championship with Pedregon the year before.
Eric responded by winning at Brainerd, Minn. in his rookie season on the way to a fifth-place finish in points. He added five more victories in the 2005 and 2006 seasons while finishing fourth both years. In 72 pro starts, he compiled a 95-66 record and never failed to qualify.
Nevertheless, he was so much more than just a race car driver. He had a passion for custom motorcycles, which he built on the side. He was an accomplished designer and painter of custom driving helmets. And, of course, he never lost his love for riding and roping that forever made him a cowboy at heart. Ultimately, though, he was all about people and how he could help make things better for others.
The Pediatric Neurology unit at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent specializes in advanced brain, spine, and nerve care for children and teens. Its pediatric ER is open 24/7 for emergencies, and pediatric neurologists are on call to monitor epilepsy and other neurologic conditions. In addition to world-class pediatric neurology, the hospital also provides pediatric sleep studies, neurosurgical care, neonatal and pediatric intensive care, and specialized rehabilitation therapies for children.
Since 2008, proceeds from the Eric Medlen Memorial Golf Tournament have funded new facilities like the St. Vincent House, a pediatric MRI Suite, a teaching classroom and the new state-of-the-art pediatric neurology hospital.