Drag Racing Action Online  Images: Phil Hutchison, Diane Kubicke and David Smith

For the third year in a row Whiteford Md. second generation racer DJ Cox won the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series NHRA Eastern Region Alcohol Funny Car title. In addition to his third Eastern title, Cox, driving the DXI Construction Camaro, also placed in the 2022 Top Five in the National Lucas Oil point chase for the second year in a row.

On the eve of the 2023 Eastern Region opener at the Baby Gators in Gainesville Fla., the champ sat down with DRAO to look back at his winning 2022 season and what was in store for the Maryland owner and driver in the upcoming NHRA season.

“We had a slow start at the beginning of the 2022,” Cox said. “At the Baby Gators we were trying a new intake manifold and other parts we added during the winter. Never got them working and happy the way we wanted. It was a bad two weekends at the Regional and the Gators. We struggled and hurt some parts too.”

The team’s trip to Gainesville in March didn’t turn out the way they wanted.

After his slow start Cox rebounded with a win at the Cecil Country Lucas race in May and a week later took the Alcohol Funny Car title at the Memorial Day race at Maple Grove Dragway.  Cox adds, “After the problems at Gainesville, we shelved some of the new stuff and went back to what we knew and what was working for us the year before. We rode out the rest of 2022 with the old combination. I still have a lot of the new parts sitting on the shelf and we gotta find time to test them.”

Cox in the finals at Cecil taking out Dan Pomponio’s Chevy 

After the back to back wins the team towed to Norwalk Ohio for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Cox qualified the Camaro with a 5.541, good enough for third in the field.

“I runner upped in Norwalk against Doug Gordon. We had a close race. I was nineteen on the tree and he had a twenty nine.  He went a 5.59 to my 5.62 and it was close at the finish line.”

Later in the summer at the August Atco Lucas race, the team struggled once again losing to the slower car of Jeff McCulloch in R1 after Cox had traction issues. “Just never got the conditions right. I was driving OK. We lost the consistency we had and a week later at Topeka the issues carried over and we had problems again. Sometimes you just lose the tune up. I think we got too far over center.”  Cox adds, “After Topeka we thought about just leaving the car at Indy for the US Nationals, but we decided to take it home to see what the problem was. We found a few things and towed the car to the Lucas Epping race the week before the Nationals. And we won. “I had a decent Indy with two runner ups for the weekend. We had a different clutch setup in the finals of the JEGS race against Kyle Smith on Friday and the car was trying like hell to pull me through the beams. And later that weekend we faced Sean (Bellemeur) in the finals of the US Nationals. Sean was just running phenomenal for the conditions. We went down the track all weekend but just did not have enough for him that day.”

Bellemeur  (near lane) had everybody’s number at Indy driving the Steve Boggs tuned Bartone Bros. Camaro

After Indy the team rebounded once again with a win at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove in what was a little taste of payback beating US Nationals winner Sean Bellemeur in the finals after losing to the California racer two weeks before. “The car was running great at Maple Grove. We ran three runs during qualifying that were within thousandths of each other and all seven passes with in the 5.40’s. It was an all-around good weekend for the team.” In the finals against Bellemeur, Cox got out first and never looked back running his seventh 5.40 in a row with a 5.477 to Bellemeur’s tire rattling 5.641. The win at Maple Grove was Cox’s third NHRA national event win.

Cox and crew had the Camaro on a string at Maple Grove posting seven straight 5.40’s 

After a semifinal finish at the Fall Charlotte race, the team traveled to the NHRA FallNationals in Dallas and qualified  #2 behind Kyle Smith with a 5.466. Cox said, “We went to the semis and were running Bellemeur, and I was 0.003 on the tree and broke an intake valve. I wasn’t but a few hundred feet down track and it lifted the blower.  We have never broken as many valves as we did in 2022. And with the inability to get parts makes it much more difficult. My semifinal loss at Charlotte was also due to an intake valve.”  A few weeks late the Maryland racer and the DXI team were at the NHRA Nevada Nationals at the Strip in Las Vegas were the car qualified #6 with a 5.501. “I red lit to Doug Gordon in the second round at Vegas after I double stepped the clutch. The way the points were going we need to win out to grab the championship. Once we didn’t win Vegas, we were tired and running out of parts and decided to head home.”

Cox adds, “I could have possibly picked up a spot or two, but Gordon had the title sewed up by then. I have a job and the extra travel money just didn’t make sense.”

On the track Bellemeur (left) has no love for Cox, but off the track, the two are good friends 

With one of the quickest Alcohol cars in the country, it’s a testament to his crew, led by his dad Darrel that they have a car capable of running with, and beating the best Alcohol Funny Cars in the nation. The team uses Brad Anderson blocks and heads and assembles everything in their Maryland shop.

“I’m fortunate to have the same group of people for years helping with the car. We have a hometown crew except our clutch guy Sam Jenkins and his son Aiden who live in North Carolina.  Everyone else lives within five miles of the race shop. My dad Darrel is our crew chief and keeps all of us in line. My mom Mary books the rooms, takes parts inventory, handles the bills, and makes sure we are all fed.  DJ continues, “My niece Tiffany’s husband Jon Mink puts a lot of hard work into the car He does clutch and general maintenance. Without him I don’t think I could do what I do. Danny Mauk handles the bottom end and drives the rig. My sister’s husband Jim Parks does the valves and general maintenance too. My fiancé Melissa Thomson helps out with a little bit of everything and my sister Chrissy is always doing whatever to keep us going. And now my niece Haley Walter has taken an interest in the car and is helping out at the shop. We have quite a large team and it’s family.”

DJ accepts his East Region Wally from outgoing D1 Director Dave Mohn at the NED Banquet in February 

This weekend at the Baby Gators will be the first time the DXI Construction Camaro will have seen the track since the last race of 2022. “We probably will not be able to test ahead of time before the race starts, Cox said. “With the business, it’s hard to get away for the pre race testing so the first qualifier for the Baby’s will be the first time the car has been on the track since we put it in the trailer.” We did some things over the winter to lighten the car up.”

“I’m also hoping to race my Top Dragster in the Rob Keister Top 32 series as I miss driving it. It runs well and only took it out once last year.”

Behind every successful man is……….  Melissa Thomson is key in getting DJ from point A to B