Race weekend at the NHRA Sonoma kicked off Thursday night at the 9th annual Eric Medlen Nitro Night dinner at the Bay Club Stone Tree in Novato. All proceeds from the evening, which raised more than $32,250, benefit Sonoma County youth groups through the Sonoma chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities in Medlen’s name.
A number of popular NHRA personalities highlighted the evening, including Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, Richie Crampton, Larry Dixon, Brittany Force, Courtney Force, Ashley Force Hood, Scotty Pollacheck and J.R. Todd. More than 100 attendees turned out for the dinner, including Medlen’s mother, Mimi, and his father, John.
Highlights of the evening included a wine and hors d’ oeuvres reception sponsored by First Republic Bank, a Texas Hold’em-style charity poker tournament, presented by McDonald’s/Costa Organization. The evening closed out with a live auction for a custom, engraved wine bottle and a hand-painted picture of Eric Medlen, which generated a total of $10,000.
Motorsports power couple Courtney Force and Graham Rahal are due to wed this fall, but before they say “I do,” Sonoma Raceway put them through their paces with a one-of-a-kind couples’ skills challenge on Wednesday, July 22.
Force, NHRA’s winningest female driver, and Rahal, currently second in Verizon IndyCar Series points, squared off on the drag strip and road course, and in an old-fashioned grape stomp.
First, the couple took to the drag strip to race Traxxas remote controlled cars. Force dominated the best-of-three matchup on the 1/8-mile strip, besting Rahal in all three races.
“This is definitely my comfort zone, so I’m really glad I could beat him out here,” said Force, who pilots the Traxxas Chevy Camaro Funny Car. “It was fun to be out here on the drag strip racing against each other.”
The couple then headed to the Simraceway Performance Driving Center, located near Turn 1 of the road course, where they utilized simulators to pilot Indy cars around the 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course. Rahal outpaced Force by almost a full lap to take the checkers in the five-lap race.
“I couldn’t let her win this one,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Mi-Jack entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “This was a great way for Courtney to understand what it’s like to race on this road course. It’s really challenging, and almost impossible to describe. And, I think we might need to get one of these simulators at home.”
The final challenge came down to an old-fashioned grape stomp in the Wine Country Winner’s Circle, where the drivers slipped off their shoes, rolled up their pants and stomped grapes for three minutes in authentic wooden barrels. Force took the win by collecting the most juice from the grapes in her barrel.
In addition to bragging rights “for as long as they both shall live,” Force also received a magnum of Korbel champagne from the raceway.
“This was really fun,” said Force. “We’re both really competitive, but we’ve never gotten to do something head-to-head like this. It’s neat to do this together and try out each others’ disciplines. And, of course, I’m very glad I won.”
Force and Rahal will both compete at Sonoma Raceway in their respective series later this summer. Force, who beat her father in the final Funny Car round in Sonoma in 2014, will take to the drag strip at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 31-Aug. 2.
Rahal, who boasts a best finish of fifth in Sonoma in the Verizon IndyCar Series, returns to wine country, Aug. 28-30, for the series’ season finale at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Photos courtesy Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images
Registration for the seventh annual Eric Medlen Golf Tournament benefitting the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent is now under way.
Hosted by Morgan Lucas Racing, the tournament returns to Eagle Creek Golf Course in Indianapolis on Thursday, Sept. 3, just before the U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.
For registration information, go to EricMedlenMemorial.com or contact Brittany Bailey at (317) 858-1333 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration is $500 for a foursome or $125 per player. Various sponsorship opportunities are also available:
- Gold sponsorship, $4,000: Includes one foursome, your logo on golf carts, signage on one hole, recognition during awards ceremony, full-page ad in event program, and a special Team Lucas package
- Silver sponsorship, $3,000: Includes one foursome, your logo on golf carts, signage on one hole, half-page ad in event program, and a special Team Lucas package
- Bronze sponsorship, $2,000: Includes one foursome, signage on one hole, recognition in event program, and a special Team Lucas package
- Putting contest, $2,000: Includes signage on putting green, recognition in event program, and a special Team Lucas package
- Driving range, $250: Includes signage on driving range and recognition in event program
- Beverage cart, $100: Includes signage on all beverage carts
The tournament was founded by Morgan and Katie Lucas in 2009 as a way to honor Medlen's life and love of children. The tournament has raised more than $250,000 for children over the years.
Joe Lepone Jr., a former national event winner in Pro Stock, died July 12 after a long and brave battle with throat cancer. He was 58.
Lepone raced in Pro Stock for two decades, after famously parlaying his efforts as a crewmember for Pro Stock legend Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins into a ride in Jenkins’ famed Grumpy’s Toy Chevy in the early 1980s. Even after he left the Jenkins team, he continued to be associated with the Pro Stock icon, whose engines powered him to his lone NHRA national event win, at the 1985 World Finals in Pomona.
Lepone also collected six Pro Stock runner-ups and finished in the top 10 eight times, with career-high fifth-place finishes in 1982, 1983, and 1986.
Lepone was Summit Racing’s first sponsored NHRA Pro Stock driver, piloting the Summit Racing Chevy Beretta from 1990-92. He also drove for a number of team owners before his final competition in the class in 2001.
Lepone further cemented his legacy in the years after as a tuner and trainer for numerous drivers in many sanctioning bodies around the world, bringing with him his years of experience and a particular expertise in larger-cubic-inch, nitrous-assisted engines.