NHRA driver Medlen dies in hospital

NHRA Funny Car driver Eric Medlen died Friday, four days after he suffered a severe head injury in a test session crash at Gainesville, Fla. He was 33.

Medlen's family elected to have him taken off life-support systems, which they said was Eric's wish for this type of situation.

Medlen's Mustang Funny Car crashed head-on into the right concrete barrier after it blew a tire on a test run Monday, the day after the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.

Medlen was one of four drivers for John Force Racing. The other three JFR drivers -- Force, Robert Hight and Ashley Force -- stayed in Florida with Medlen's family.

"Eric was the son I never had," said Force, who has four daughters. "He was the leader of my next generation of drivers. This loss is a huge blow, not only to the Medlen family, but to drag racing and to John Force Racing."

Doctors placed Medlen in an induced coma at the surgical intensive care unit of Shands hospital at the University of Florida Medical Center. John Medlen, Eric's father and crew chief, said doctors did all they could to save Eric.

"I want to thank the medical staff at Shands, not just for giving Eric the very best care, but for the compassion they showed for Eric and all those close to him," John Medlen said. "I also want to thank the thousands of people who offered their prayers and support to us during this very difficult time."

Doctors removed the front portion of Medlen's skull Tuesday to relieve pressure and attempt to improve blood flow to the brain.

"Eric suffered from severe traumatic brain injury with diffuse axonal injury, or DAI," Dr. Joseph Layon, Professor of Anesthesiology, Surgery and Medicine and the Chief of Critical Care Medicine at UF, said in a release. "Survival rates associated with DAI are low.

"Despite receiving the most aggressive treatment, Eric continued to have uncontrollable intracranial pressure. His body lost the ability to manage its salt and water levels and he began displaying the complicating factors associated with DAI."

Medlen was competing in his fourth season as a driver. He won six NHRA events in his first three seasons and finished a career-best fourth in the 2006 Funny Car standings.

Medlen spent eight years as a crew member for Force's Funny Car, learning the mechanical side of the sport from his father.

John Medlen was the crew chief for Tony Pedregon when Pedregon won the NHRA Funny Car title for John Force Racing in 2003. Eric took over for Pedregon when Pedregon left to form his own team.

Medlen grew up in Oakdale, Calif., where he was a high school rodeo champion in calf roping. He contemplated a career in pro rodeo before his father called in 1996 to offer him a mechanic's job at John Force Racing.

Medlen was a supercharger technician and later a clutch specialist for six of Force's 14 championships before becoming a driver.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.