Every year Sonoma Raceway finds ways to commemorate and celebrate the life of the late Eric Medlen, a native of Oakdale in the San Joaquin Valley, who raced Funny Car in NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series with John Force Racing.
Medlen, the son of Don Schumacher Racing’s elite tuner John Medlen, on the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T driven by Jack Beckman, found victory at his home track of Sonoma Raceway in 2006, yet lost his life in a testing accident the day after the 2007 Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.
Eric Medlen’s vibrant personality almost overshadowed his driving ability, but not quite. His abilities to turn wrenches, tune and drive a (then) 10,000-horsepower Funny Car were legendary, and his humanity rose above any difficulties he might have experienced from day to day. These are the qualities that even now, more than a decade later, cause friends and fans to revere Eric Medlen.
His home track of Sonoma Raceway annually holds an Eric Medlen Nitro Night Charity Dinner prior to its NHRA race, which takes place this year July 27-29. The Thursday night charity dinner, now in its 12th incarnation, kicks off the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals.
This year the charitable event will honor a member of the NHRA community who exemplifies the charitable efforts that helped make Eric Medlen such a beloved member of the racing family. This year’s event (being held at a new venue, Viansa Sonoma, just five miles from the racetrack and one of the most scenic wineries in the Sonoma Valley) will, as always, benefit Speedway Children’s Charities (SCC).
The event will honor one of Medlen’s competitors in Funny Car with the SCC Eric Medlen Award. The initial recipient of this honor is Ron Capps, also a California native and longtime supporter of the Sonoma chapter of SCC. Capps, NHRA’s 2016 Funny Car champion for Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), is a long-time supporter of the Sonoma chapter of SCC, having attended almost every NHRA Tour de Charity karting event and Eric Medlen Nitro Night since their inceptions.
Known for his own outgoing personality, his love of fun and his support of children, Capps is a worthwhile recipient. “It’s an unbelievable honor,” he said. “Not just the fact that it’s the inaugural Eric Medlen Spirit Award, but the fact that it came from Steve Page and his group in Sonoma – I consider them family.”
The driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T recalled, “My dad took me there as a kid and whenever someone asks me what my favorite race track is, it doesn’t take long for me to say ‘Sonoma.’ Every year we get together with fans at the NHRA Tour de Charity karting event and it sells out every year.” Capps, former DSR racer Gary Scelzi and current driver Jack Beckman have all taken part in the karting event.
Sonoma Raceway’s Eric Medlen Nitro Night Charity Dinner on Thursday, July 26th features a reception sponsored by McDonald’s and Costa Organization, a wine country dinner, charity drawing and special tributes to Eric Medlen and Ron Capps. The evening also includes a Q&A by emcee and 2012 NHRA Funny Car champ Beckman.
Sonoma Raceway is offering a free shuttle to and from the Viansa property from the track. Tickets are $150 per person or $1,500 per table. All proceeds benefit qualified youth groups in Sonoma County, given in Medlen’s name through SCC. More information is available and tickets may be purchased by visiting: https://bit.ly/2KVucZJ.