he memory of Oakdale native and famed funny car driver Eric Medlen will no longer be limited to the scattered accounts of his tremendous sense of humor and a heart big enough to power the incredible machines he piloted.
The Oakdale High graduate and former District 5 Rodeo star will be honored with the dedication of a special monument at Eric Medlen Park on Greger Street at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 30.
Medlen was killed during an unprecedented accident at a National Hot Rod Association fuel funny car test session in 2007. The tragedy removed Medlen from the world of racing, but left lasting impacts on the sport as the science of safety in Funny Cars was drastically altered to prevent further similar injuries.
Medlen was reputed as a courageous man with a special connection to children and his young racing fans across the globe. It’s fitting that his memory will be honored by a park for kids in his hometown.
“Eric loved kids so much, which is why the park is dedicated to the children of Oakdale,” Eric’s mother, Mimi Medlen said on Thursday. “Eric made an impression on everyone he met. He was such a lighthearted jokester.
“He made me laugh every day.”
The ceremony has drawn attention from the base of funny car drivers and fans who shared close bonds with the pride of Oakdale. Many members of Medlen’s John Force racing team, including drivers Robert Hight, Ashley Force and Mike Neff have made commitments to attend the dedication. Top fuel driver Larry Dixon, crew chief Eric Lange and even Force Racing chief Johnny Rose have declared their intention to be present for the Oakdale event.
“It means a great deal to know so many people supported Eric and not just those from Oakdale,” Mimi Medlen added.
“We have had correspondence with people all over the world. He made an impression on everyone he came in contact with.”
The park was named in his honor when Oakdale’s Linda Johanson recommended the moniker before the Oakdale City Council, which approved it. Soon after, donations for the monument were collected through Facebook and ericmedlenpark.com.
The date for the ceremony was specifically chosen to follow the NHRA Summer Nationals in Sonoma from July Friday, 27 to Sunday, July 29. The scheduling allows Eric’s fellow teammates and friends to attend the July 30 dedication before departing to the next NHRA race in Seattle.
Eric’s story is well-known lore in the world of funny car racing. He grew up in the Oakdale Saddle Club Rodeo and enjoyed a successful youth career under the tutelage of famed Oakdale roper, Jerold Camarillo. His father, John Medlen, was already a member of the John Force racing team at the time, and invited his son to join the team soon after he graduated OHS in 1991. Three years later, Eric stepped into a vacancy and began a driving career of his own. The success was immediate. Eric was a top contender for the NHRA Funny Car Rookie of the Year in 2004, the same year he captured his first win in Brainerd, Minnesota. He went on to land three wins in 2005 and two more in 2006.
His tragic accident happened on March 19 of 2007 when his funny car began to shake violently from side to side during a test run in Gainesville, Florida. As a result of the motions of the car, he struck his head repeatedly on the roll bars inside the vehicle. That rendered him unconscious before his car struck the wall. He later died from the head injuries.
The accident that claimed Eric’s life ultimately went on to prevent similar occurrences on the track. The NHRA funny cars are now required to meet safety standards that provide extensive padding along the roll bars.
“Unfortunately it takes something like this to happen for new safety standards to be established,” Oakdale Leader racing correspondent and longtime funny car enthusiast Mike Burghardt said Thursday. “So far his accident has created safety standards that have saved the lives of both John and Ashley Force and several other drivers.
“Eric had a big impact on drag racing. To this day you will still see a lot of drivers honor his number (4) and wear stickers in his memory.”
The public is invited to the park monument dedication ceremony.