August 13, 1973 - March 23, 2007
(Photo;John Force Racing)
Born in Oakdale, CA
Medlen was a champion calf roper in high school and considered a career as a professional team roper with his partner and mentor, World Champion Team Roper Jerold Camarillo. He also loved to build custom motorcycles and paint his race helmets. He worked as a mechanic for John Force and past teammate Tony Pedregon for 8 years until Pedregon left to join his brother Cruz's race team. Medlen was moved into Pedregon's Castrol Syntec-sponsored car. His father John Medlen was his crew chief.
Medlen drove for John Force Racing in 2004, 2005 and 2006, campaigning in the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang Fuel Funny Car, and in 2007, campaigning in the Auto Club/Pleasant Holiday Ford Mustang Fuel Funny Car. He had a total of 6 career wins. His first win came during his Rookie season in 2004 at Brainerd International Raceway. He also was a top contender for the NHRA Road to the Future Funny Car Rookie of the Year. Each year he raced, he placed in the top five or higher in NHRA Championship Points.
On March 19, 2007 during a test session at Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, Florida, Medlen was critically injured when his Funny Car developed the most severe tire shake ever recorded in a Funny Car. The side-to-side force of the shake caused his head to hit the roll bars around his head, causing severe head injuries. He became unconscious, causing the car to lose control and strike the wall.
After being cut free from the car by the NHRA Safety Safari and receiving emergency treatment at the track, Medlen was transferred by Alachua County Fire Rescue to Shands at the University of Florida where he was treated for four days for what doctors characterized as a severe closed head injury.
Medlen survived a delicate, three-hour craniectomy procedure to relieve pressure and hemorrhaging on March 20, 2007, but succumbed to complications of diffuse axonal injury three days later after being removed from life support in accordance with his own previously stated wishes.
According to auto racing safety expert John Medlen, Medlen was literally shaken to death in the incident. The deflating tire caused an 18-inch movement up and down, which then exerted a force of 40,000 or more pounds as it rotated.
He was the first NHRA fatality since 2004, when Top Fuel racer Darrell Russell lost his life in a race, and the first Funny Car driver to lose his life in 30 years. John Force Racing immediately began an investigation into Medlen's death, leading to the project to build a safer car called the Eric Medlen Project, with the new chassis often called an Eric Medlen chassis.
One major legacy that was left behind by Medlen happened after his death, the NHRA enacted a new safety requirement within the Funny Car division, that states that the roll bars within the car now have to be padded. The roll bars are padded with a heavy foam rubber insulation and wrapped with seven layers of Nomex fabric to make the foam rubber more resistant to fire. This has dramatically reduced the kinds of injuries among drivers that Medlen suffered which ultimately resulted in his death.
Sonoma Raceway holds the Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social with fans and competitors being able to have ice cream after the final round of qualifying during the track's NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series race. Medlen mentioned that a person can never be unhappy when eating ice cream. The benefit helps local racers in the San Francisco Bay area who race at Sonoma toward a scholarship fund.