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Eric Medlen, 33; funny-car drag racer

March 24, 2007|Jim Peltz | Times Staff Writer

Professional drag racer Eric Medlen, who drove 300-mph funny cars, died Friday of head injuries he suffered in a crash during practice this week in Gainesville, Fla., his team said. He was 33.

Medlen, who drove for the team owned by the sport's legendary funny-car driver John Force of Yorba Linda, never regained consciousness after his 8,000-horsepower car crashed into a guard wall Monday at Gainesville Raceway.

Medlen underwent brain surgery Tuesday at the Shands facility at the University of Florida and was being kept in a drug-induced coma to promote healing, but to no avail.

"That is when Eric's family elected to honor Eric's wishes and remove him from the artificial life-support systems," said Dr. Joseph Layon, chief of critical-care medicine at the university.

Medlen's father and crew chief, John Medlen, thanked the medical staff "for giving Eric the very best care he could have received," and he thanked "the thousands of people who offered their prayers and support."

A native of Oakdale, Calif., near Modesto, the younger Medlen won six races sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Assn. between 2004 and 2006. He also finished in the top five in drivers' points all three years.

"Words cannot describe how everyone at NHRA is feeling," said association President Tom Compton, who called Medlen "one of our brightest young stars."

A high school champion in calf-roping rodeo events, Medlen had considered a future in professional rodeo. But in 1996 his father, John, offered him a mechanic's job on Force's team, and he spent the next several years as a key member of Force's crew.

Then in 2004, Force surprised many by choosing Medlen to drive one of his funny cars, with his father as crew chief.

Force, a 14-time hot-rod association funny-car champion, said Friday that "Eric Medlen was the son I never had. He was the leader of my next generation of drivers. This loss is a huge blow not only to the Medlen family, but to drag racing and John Force Racing."

Medlen's excited demeanor reminded many of the effervescent Force. Friendly, approachable and often self-effacing, Medlen also was a fan favorite like his boss.

"I'm just a small-town Western country boy roper," he once told The Times. Force, he said, was "a guy that deals from his heart and thrives off of emotion, and throughout the years that's something that I've always wanted to do."

In addition to his father, Medlen is survived by his mother, Mary "Mimi" Medlen, and stepmother, Martha Medlen. Services were pending.

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