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Medlen laid to rest
Funny Car driver Eric Medlen was laid to rest on a dreary Wednesday afternoon at West Ridge Park Cemetery in Clermont, Ind., within earshot of O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, drag racing's most hallowed ground. The 33-year-old John Force Racing driver died as a result of head injuries suffered in a testing accident March 19 in Gainesville, Fla.

The burial was preceded by an emotional, early-morning funeral service at Connection Pointe Christian Church in nearby Brownsburg. Fourteen-time NHRA world champion John Force led the pallbearers, who included Brandon Bernstein, J.R. Todd, Morgan Lucas, Robert Hight, crewmembers, and Jerold Camarillo, the professional cowboy who tutored Medlen during his budding rodeo career.

NHRA Chaplain and Racers For Christ President Larry Smiley presided over both ceremonies, which were attended by more than 1,000 members of the drag racing community, including world champions Shirley Muldowney, Don Prudhomme, Gary Scelzi, Frank Hawley, Tony and Cruz Pedregon, Larry Dixon, Kenny Bernstein, Jeg Coughlin, and Greg Anderson. Dozens of active drivers also attended, as did numerous crewmembers from virtually every Professional race team. Medlen's Auto Club crew entered the church in team uniforms, followed by each of the crews of the other three John Force Racing groups, who also wore team uniforms. Wearing sunglasses, Force later entered with his extended family, including son-in-law Hight.

NHRA was represented by President Tom Compton, Senior Vice President-Racing Operations Graham Light, and Vice President-Public Relations & Communications Jerry Archambeault.

The church and altar were ringed with large flower arrangements that continued to pour into the facility through the morning. Representatives from every form of auto racing had sent condolences to the Medlen family, including Eric's father and crew chief, John, his stepmother, Martha, and his mother, Mimi. Eric's sister, Eryn Gonzales, also was in attendance.

Medlen's body remained in front of the stage in his Castrol firesuit, and the inscription Eric "Duffy" Medlen, 4 F/C was visible on the inside of the casket lid.

"He was the son I never had," Force said in an emotional eulogy. "He was the leader of my Next Generation of drivers at John Force Racing. He loved his crew -- you guys will never know love like that again -- and he loved his mom and Martha, and, God, he loved his dad.

"He had the personality. We all saw what a talker he was. We all saw his energy. Whenever I was feeling burned out, I'd see this star that never quit, and it was Eric, picking me back up again.

"He loved the rain, even at the races. That's when we'd get to leave the track and go to the movies together. He'd come up to me and say, 'Let's go to the movies. Dad said we could go.' Never mind what I said, as long as his dad said he could go, he was all right with that.

"Whenever I'd race him, he'd be talking nonstop on the radio. We'd do our burnouts, and he'd say, 'Look at the people, boss, they love us.' And I'd tell him to shut up because I was old, and I needed to concentrate. He'd roll up there and turn on the first light and say, 'You're gonna fire me, boss, because I'm fixing to kick your …'; that's how he was.

"One morning we were in the trailer, and he came in all serious and said, 'Well, this ain't gonna be a good day.' I asked him why not, and he said, 'Because I'm sending you home early.' Sure enough, he beat me and sent me home early."

Toward the end of his eulogy, Force, fighting back tears, told a final story.

"One time Eric had girl troubles, and he came to me. I walked him out in the shop and said, 'Look at that car, Eric. That car will always love you. It'll fix you when you need fixing. I said it will always protect you, and I was wrong. For that, I'm sorry, Eric."

Force and Smiley talked about the comfort that the Medlens had received since their son's death through an epiphany John Medlen had in which his son told him that he was okay. "Only the Lord can explain why that happened," Force said in closing. "Right now, I think Eric is telling me to sit down."

Camarillo's sister, Christi Camarillo, then spoke on behalf of Medlen's mother and her brother Jerold.

"He put you on such a pedestal," she said to Force, reading the words of Medlen's mother. "Thank you for all you've done for him. Ashley, he gave you grief, and that's not going to stop, but you were very special to him, like a sister.

"He was born three weeks late, but with that same smile. He was a great son, and when he had that chance to reconnect with his dad, I knew that's what he wanted the most.

"He loved being a race car driver. Once I was on the phone with him when this very excited fan asked for his autograph. I could overhear the conversation, and Eric was so nice to her, like normal. When the girl was walking away, I heard her say, 'Thank you, Ron.' Eric just laughed. 'I'm not Ron Capps,' he told her.

"You've gone to a better place with a big piece of my heart, son, but keep running and don't ever look back."

For Jerold, Christi conveyed the message of Medlen's love of horses and the rodeo. "When he had trouble with his lights one time, I told him to be aggressive at the barrier [about the barrier that calf ropers break through to start their timers]. That was cowboy advice to a race car driver.

"Maybe God needed a Funny Car driver, or maybe he just needed another cowboy. I think George Strait put it best: ‘We'll see you on the other side, partner.' "

The service ended with a prayer before the pallbearers carried Medlen out into the misty, gray day and began the funeral procession to the cemetery, which stretched the length of Brownsburg and beyond. NHRA.com

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