Top Fuel ace Del Cox hopes history is on his side
They say history tends to repeat itself. Top Fuel driver Del Cox hopes that statement one day rings true.
Following an almost identical path to the Top Fuel ranks as good friend Spencer Massey, Cox takes over the same Mitch King backed dragaster that Massey drove to four victories and an IHRA Top Fuel World Championship in his rookie season just last year.
Now Cox hopes it is his turn in the spotlight.
"I know we have a car that can win a championship, it all just depends on what comes our way," Cox said. "It really isn't any added pressure knowing what Spencer did last year. It is almost less pressure because you know what you are capable of as long as you don't mess up."
But even without the added pressure of driving for a championship caliber team, Cox still has some pretty big shoes to fill.
Massey took the IHRA by storm last season, winning an IHRA event in his first time out at San Antonio just days after earning his Top Fuel license. He followed up his season-opening victory with a win at the Spring Nationals in Rockingham a couple weeks later and went on to claim two more Ironman trophies before the season was up at the Northern Nationals and Sooner Nationals. He also threw in a runner-up finish at the Canadian Nationals en route to a clean sweep through the Top Fuel ranks, leading the points from beginning to end.
Massey finished the season with five finals appearances, four wins and a comfortable 89 point victory over Bruce Litton for the 2008 IHRA Top Fuel championship.
Not only did that success help propel Massey to a championship in just his first full season behind the wheel of a Top Fuel dragster, it also helped him land a full-time gig with NHRA owner Don Prudhomme for the 2009 racing season.
With Massey moving on, that left owner/driver Mitch King with the task of finding a new driver for the 2009 season, although it didn't take long for "The King" to find his new ace in the hole.
"Spencer introduced him to the team a while back. He wanted to get a license and it has always been my thing, if you have money you can drive the car," King said. "I had already checked him out, watching him drive his A-Fuel car, and we knew he could drive. Right now we are just taking it one race at a time. So far things have started out just as they started out with Spencer so we will see where things go from there."
And it was Cox's relationship with Massey that led to his new ride.
"I have known Spencer since we were kids and I met the whole team a year or two ago and started hanging out with them and one thing led to another and pretty soon I was driving for Mitch," Cox said. "I have always wanted to drive a Top Fuel car and hanging out with Spencer and then having his thing come together with Prudhomme I was able to get some money together and get together with my sponsors and they helped me out. That is how we have got here so far."
And so far that partnership was worked out very nicely.
Cox began his racing career just as Massey did when he was very young, winning races and championships in the junior dragster divisions at just 9 years old. He then moved on to Super Comp and Super Eliminator in his late teens before graduating to Top Dragster and Top Sportsman roughly five years ago.
After winning a couple divisional championships in both Top Sportsman and Top Dragaster competition, Cox then moved up to the Alcohol Dragster ranks two years ago before being tapped to drive Top Fuel this season.
"He is young and energetic and brings youth and enthusiasm to a bunch of old guys," King said.
Now, from junior dragster to the real deal, Cox is finally living his dream driving for a championship caliber team with an award winning crew headed by 2008 IHRA Crew Chief of the Year Paul Smith.
"The whole team works really well together. I have never been on a team where everybody gets along and I guess the main deal behind it all is Paul Smith," Cox said. "Paul has been around forever and he knows how to get a car down the track. You would rarely see one of his cars get shut down. He has been doing this for a long time and knows what he is doing.
"Me and Spencer have it easy, we just drive the cars."
And if Cox's first race out is any indication of what to expect this season -- watch out.
Cox made his IHRA debut in impressive fashion earlier this month at the Summit Racing Equipment Mardi Gras Nationals at State Capitol Raceway in Baton Rouge with a weekend best pass of 4.712 at 314.83 miles per hour, good enough for first on the qualifying charts.
While his chart topping lap definitely turned some heads, what really made it stand out was that it came in his first pass of the weekend. And as the race went on, that run was able to hold up as Cox entered Sunday's final eliminations with the top qualifying spot.
Cox continued his strong weekend on Sunday, claiming a first round victory over Tim Boychuk when Boychuk overstaged and lit the red bulb, giving Cox a free pass to the next round.
But Cox's luck finally ran out in the semi-finals when veteran racer Bobby Lagana Jr. eliminated Cox with a 5.085/233.48 pass to Cox's 5.174/265.48.
"It was a good weekend. I think we all wish the car would have ran a little better second round because I know we had the car to win, but that is drag racing," Cox said. "It was a cool way to start the year and be the No. 1 qualifier the first time out."
While Cox didn't make it to the finals, it was still an impressive first outing for the 28-year-old Downey, Calif. native and one that has many people asking not if, but when Cox will hoist his first Ironman.
"That would be awesome. It would be a dream come true, especially for my grandpa. My grandpa is my main support behind my whole deal. If it wasn't for him I would never have been racing," Cox said. "When we were kids my whole family raced. We raced every weekend all around the country when we were in junior dragsters and it would be a dream to win now."
And hopefully he won't have to wait long for that first professional win.
Cox will have plenty of chances to get that first win as he balances a full plate of IHRA and NHRA events this season. But after his first weekend racing with the IHRA, Cox admits that he discovered a few things very unique to the legendary sanctioning body.
"I was pretty happy with the whole IHRA thing. It was a lot different than the NHRA. With the NHRA you are basically racing corporate America and if you don't have a major sponsor over there then it is difficult. The IHRA is more family oriented and a lot more involved with having fun and making it fun for the racers, the crowd and everyone," Cox said. "Everybody down there was really nice, the owners of the track were awesome -- it was just a fun weekend overall. Even if I wasn't racing it would have still been a lot of fun."
With one race behind him, Cox will now see what the cards have in store as he tries to map out the rest of the season which, as of now, includes a trip to Rockingham next month for the 38th running of the IHRA Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway.
"I am pretty sure we are going to do quite a few IHRA races, especially right now with the points. I am looking forward to all of it, the whole year," Cox said. "I also wanted to thank RG Industries, Lucas Oil, Bexar Waste, Sunset Cove, Sparco Race Products and especially my grandpa, Mitch King of course and everyone on the team. If it wasn't for them that car wouldn't go down the track."
And seeing the success this team has had with Massey last year and in the early goings of 2009, Cox is not shy in what he expects before the close of the year.
"We want to win some races and definitely win a championship. I think that is the main goal, we are all out here to win," Cox said. "Having a good team and good sponsors and all of that, one thing should lead to another and we should be able to accomplish that."
Only time will tell if that will be the case, but at least for now Cox has history on his side.