Tuesday, January 31, 2012
John Medlen returning to JFR
By Terry Blount
John Medlen, who was instrumental in helping the NHRA make major safety improvements after the death of his son, Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, has returned to John Force Racing as the director of technology and safety.
Force made the surprise announcement on a conference call Tuesday after the two old friends worked out the details over the weekend.
"To me, this is all about heart and about family," Force said. "When we lost Eric [in 2007], I was mental over it. Then his dad left the team [in 2010] and I was mental over that. But when John walked back in building this morning it was like big load lifted off my shoulders. Things were back the way they used to be.
"John is a leader in safety. I always wanted him back because he's like family. He will get to work with our crew chiefs building on a lot of the safety ideas we have worked on over the winter. We had a strong test session, but we need to keep working on ideas throughout the season. That is what Medlen will do for us."
Medlen, 61, won a Funny Car championship at JFR as crew chief to Tony Pedregon in 2003. Eric Medlen was driving for JFR in 2007 when he was killed in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.
Force and Medlen started the Eric Medlen Project afterward, working with NHRA officials on safety advancements that were implemented the following season.
Some of those changes included the three-rail chassis (greatly improving the G-Force energy distribution of a car in a crash), cockpit reconstruction (wider seats and increased head padding) and form-fitted helmets (using computer models to tailor the helmet to the head of each driver).
Medlen left JFR in 2010 for Don Schumacher Racing when the economy caused Force to shut down one of his four cars. He was a consultant on Melanie Troxel's Funny Car last season.
"This is truly a family environment and I have missed it," Medlen said. "The people, the hospitality; nothing has changed. We're all looking forward to a great year racing four Funny Cars again and going for the championship."
Medlen will work at the JFR shop in Brownsburg, Ind., where the Eric Medlen Project is housed. He also will work on research and development for components in the engines, the Ford BOSS 500 which Medlen helped design.
"Few people will ever know the many engineering contributions John Medlen has made to drag racing," said JFR senior crew chief Bernie Fedderly. "He was the real 'mad scientist' in our group. I don't think there's anything he can't build."
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com.