LINDBERG PROVING TO BE A QUICK STUDY IN THE GAME OF NITRO TUNING
If John Medlen has heard the scenario once, he's heard it a million times. It's like the Karate Kid meets nitromethane tuning, and for the record, Medlen has zero problem being the sensei to a young tuner that he expects to be one of the leading tuners of the future.
Jonnie Lindberg was named as the crew chief for Paul Lee Racing at the end of 2023 and would be mentored by the championship-winning Medlen. Tuesday was his first day on the job, out in the field during testing at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
"I think Jonnie's going to be one of the stars of the show," Medlen proclaimed. "I really believe that."
Lee's McLeod Racing team made several strong runs, finishing in the eight-car field for the PRO Superstar Shootout. Of all his runs, none were more impressive than the 3.88 during the heat of the day on Friday.
By the looks of it, Lindberg is taking to the challenge of learning and executing with no problem at all.
"He's been a racer for so many years and running his own car and so many other people's cars, he knows the level of competition," Medlen said. 'Just if there was any apprehension, it's just that the intimidation of the fuel car. He's a mechanical guy. He gets it."
The Swedish-born Lindberg has plenty of experience with Funny Cars, having won the 2013 FIA Top Methanol championship, and after arriving in the United States in 2014, obliterated the NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car elapsed time world record, won six national events and two regional races, and a couple of national championships.
Lindberg did a stint as the driver for nitro veteran Jim Head. He even walked away from a two-car crash with John Force.
"He's been around it enough," Medlen said. "Like anybody else, me, everybody included, that's a competitor; your level of competition is within yourself, and that's what drives you to be nervous. But if you've got a level, a reasonable level of understanding with the parts, that calms you a bit."
Though Lindberg could have been intimidated by the prospect of a new job and one of the more seasoned mentors in the business, it wouldn't have been in his nature.
"So far, it's been really good because we kind of think the same," Lindberg said. "It's easy for him to explain something for me and I get it right away, and vice versa. If I try to explain something to him, he gets it pretty quick. I've been working with different people during my career, and it's been hard to try to explain something, but this is a pretty good match, I think."
Medlen said the first thing he established with Lindberg is they are on the same level, even though he is the mentor.
"First thing," Medlen confirmed. "We established that we're on the same wavelength naturally, and when you're on the same frequency naturally, then you can discuss everything just like friends, not as somebody trying to dictate this or that or the other. What we've got, it's great. We got no foreseen or even unforeseen differences."
The kind of working relationship was the only reason Medlen came out of his retirement.
"It's kind of funny. I had a friend text me at the beginning of this year, and he asked, 'Who are you going to retire with this year?" Medlen said. "My full intent was when I officially retired that I would never come back. That was my full 100% intent. But Paul Lee called and I said, 'No, I'm not interested. I just really don't want to do this anymore."
"He said' 'Well, man, I need some help."
"That pulled on a string. You think, okay, so when you come back out here and your goal is to help somebody, that's okay. I don't want to sit in the captain's chair. I don't want to do any of that. But to help is fun for me. And especially when, in the case of Jason [Bunker] last year, we went along through the year, and the car improved, and he moved on to Cruz, but he'll take 100% of what we learned together with him. And that makes me feel good that you help another guy in the sport, hopefully, and probably earn a living in the sport. And regardless, at the end of the day, we still got to pay the bills. So those guys got to eat.
And it's working for Lee, as on his first full pass to the finish line, he recorded a 3.87. No doubt, the boss likes what he sees now.
"Jonnie is smart, and he's a sponge," Lee said. "And he is learning from one of the legends of the sport, so it's a perfect match for him. He gets to learn from one of the best, and that's what he wants to do. And the guy's super smart, and he picks up everything quickly. So to run a 387 on the full run we tried to make is pretty impressive. He's making those tire change or the tire pressure and the primary calls. He's a natural."