Show of Force highlights family ties at Infineon


WALNUT CREEK, Calif.

Recycling is second nature in this community just east of San Francisco where many trees are older than Las Vegas.

Bicycle riding is popular, and pedaling up these hills must require use of performance-enhancing drugs; I get winded driving my niece's Nissan Pathfinder.

At seemingly every stoplight an environmentally friendly Prius appears to be sitting quietly awaiting the green.

I'm on a green-world vacation visiting family, which includes a 5- and an 8-year-old.

Scheduling the trip was not happenstance; it was timed for when the NHRA pro tour was visiting Infineon Raceway in Sonoma -- a 45-mile jaunt on traffic-jammed highways last Friday afternoon.

A brief nitro fix and driving without air conditioning in the cooler clime made the nearly two-hour ride worthwhile.

The fuelers warming in the pits topped first-round qualifying action for me. In October, you can share the fun when the series returns to visit Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Spending a day with the kids was more important than overdosing on nitro fumes during Sunday's championship eliminations.

What I missed at the track was observing family love, especially in three special winning celebrations.

The most sacred had to be the one enjoyed by the Lamb family of Henderson. Justin Lamb, 20, won his first national NHRA Sportsman title when he beat veteran Sheldon Gecker in highly competitive Super Comp.

Boulder City resident Duane Shields won the Top Alcohol Dragster title. Nothing new for him.

Lamb is the first racer from Southern Nevada other than Shields and Top Fuel points leader Rod Fuller to win an NHRA national title in more than five years.

The most emotional outburst at Infineon, however, was by a driver who won for the 124th time. But this year every victory is the best ever for John Force.

He arrived at the track knowing the defending Funny Car champion could not repeat. His teammate, the late Eric Medlen, won a year ago. Medlen died in March from injuries suffered in a testing accident at Gainesville, Fla.

Force, who beat daughter Ashley in the first round, narrowly defeated Del Worsham for the trophy that promptly was given to Eric's dad, John.

"We had a team meeting," Force said, "and I said that between me, Ashley and Robert (Hight), one of us had to win this race for Eric.

"I remember how happy he was when he won here last year because he's from this area. He had that goofy smile and was eating ice cream and just having a blast."

After the race, more than 2,000 fans and racers attended Sunday's inaugural "Eric Medlen Ice Cream Social," which raised more than $9,000, with the track contributing half to the Eric Medlen Scholarship Fund.

I would have liked to have had a dip or two and shared the moment with that extended family.

As a bachelor with family split between Northern California and Dallas, too frequently I see past family ties in racing -- or ignore them out of jealousy.

On Monday, I picked up ice cream for my family while wearing an Eric Medlen T-shirt.

Our greatest comforts, food and watching two kids smile with every lick and bite, softened the loss of Medlen.

Medlen would like Walnut Creek, where the former rodeo roper could have visited a feed store with a big horse statue on its roof.

But I don't believe you ever would have caught him driving there in a Prius.

Jeff Wolf's motor sports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.

 

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