Since making the move up to PDRA’s co-headlining Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous category in 2015, Jay Cox has been a perennial championship contender with his line of bright orange ’69 Camaros known as “the Pumpkin.” With 10 PDRA national event wins, he’s tied for third on the PDRA Pro Nitrous all-time win list. He also recently tied the class E.T. record on his way to a runner-up finish at the PDRA Red Line Oil Carolina Nationals at Darlington Dragway.
But he’s also the father of two young children, son Levi and daughter Avery, and in an effort to spend more time with them, the Smithfield, North Carolina-based driver and tuner has decided to step away from driving at the end of the 2023 PDRA season. His car, engines, transmissions, and other equipment will be available after the Proline Racing Brian Olson Memorial World Finals presented by ProCharger, Oct. 19-22, at Virginia Motorsports Park. He’ll remain involved in the class, though, as the tuner for teammate and sponsor Marcus Butner, who earned his first Pro Nitrous win earlier this season.
“I don’t want to call it quitting, man, because I’ve never quit nothing in my life, but I guess you could say stepping away,” said Cox, a former professional baseball player. “I got to see the other side of it, the tuning side of it, and I really enjoy that. I really enjoy the racing. I love racing. I love racing like I love baseball, but God gave me two really good youngins and I love spending time with them.”
Over the past several seasons, Cox has ramped up his program to keep up with the Pro Nitrous class. He works a time-intensive job running the family towing company, then spends his weeknights in the race car shop. It’s not uncommon to find him at nearby GALOT Motorsports Park testing on a random Tuesday or on off weekends or during the offseason. Pro Nitrous is a max-effort class, and that doesn’t align with Cox’s goals as a father.
“It’s tough because I love it so much, but at the end of the day, I love my kids more,” Cox said. “I only get one shot at this thing called being a father. I had the best father ever growing up, my dad [Lloyd], and I want to be like him. He was always there for me. Never missed a ball game. Never missed nothing. And I don’t want to miss nothing, man. I love racing, I love what it’s done, I love the people, the fans, the support, but man, I just really want to have more time with my kids.
“One’s about to be seven, one’s about to be nine, and the way I look at it, I’ve already spent half the time I’m going to truly, genuinely get with them at my house,” Cox continued. “When they turn 18, they go to college, they come home from college, they get a job and they start a family, then I don’t see them every day. That time’s just flown by, man. I just want more time with them. If I had to choose being a great race car driver or being a great dad, I’d choose dad every day.”
Cox asserts that he’s not taking this step back due to a lack of funding or support. To the contrary, the Butner family has pledged whatever Cox needs to continue racing.
“They’re probably the best people I’ve ever known when it comes to racing and someone standing behind you financially,” Cox said. “They stood behind me at my worst. They stood behind me at my best. They’ve never questioned nothing. They don’t go out and run their mouth and brag and boast. They just say, ‘Hey man, just tell me what you need and we’ll make it happen.’ If I had to choose somebody to say, ‘These are the last people I’m going to race with and I’m done,’ I couldn’t pick better people.”
Cox and Butner have raced as teammates for the past couple seasons, though Butner’s team houses and maintains their car while Cox tunes it. That arrangement will continue in 2024, and Cox said there’s likely an opportunity to continue operating as a two-car team if someone bought his car and wanted to team up with Butner.
“I would like to have a two-car deal,” said Cox, who tuned Butner to his first Pro Nitrous win at the PDRA North vs. South Shootout at Maryland in June. “I think it’s very beneficial in the class we run at and where we run at now. You can make one car run, no problem, but if you have a problem with one, it’s easy to find the problem when you’re running two cars.
“I told Marcus I’d do a two-car deal with him, but I’m not going to leave him no matter what,” Cox added. “I’d be with him to the end, man, on whatever he wants to do. So I don’t know how else to put it, but if somebody wants to run Pro Nitrous and they want to run at the top, I’m sure Marcus would do a two-car deal with them. I don’t have the time to maintain it, service it, keep it up, and handle all that side of it. But going to the racetrack for eight weekends out of the year, ain’t nothing to that for me.”
Along with the Butners, Cox noted the support he’s received over the years from partners like his current engine builder, Pat Musi, who Cox has been working with this year on Lizzy Musi’s Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings entry as a tuner.
“Pat knew where I was headed, and Pat stuck with me,” Cox said. “Anything I’ve needed, he’s made sure I got it. I’d really like to thank Pat for giving me some badass engines.”
A constant in Cox’s operation has been RJ Race Cars, who’ve built multiple iterations of “the Pumpkin” for Cox.
“I really want to thank Rickie and Rick Jones for sticking with me,” Cox said. “They have been with me and gave me, in my opinion, one of the best race cars for 15 years. Anything they’ve built has been great. I’d really like to thank them for all they’ve done.”
Cox has also received support from Smithfield Collision, a local body shop, for the last several seasons.
“Vance Wade, a longtime friend and longtime sponsor, has always had my back and said if I wanted to come back, he would always be there,” Cox said. “He really loves racing, and I can’t thank him enough for the last six years he’s been with me.”
Cox’s biggest partner in racing, though, has been his father, Lloyd.
“I’ve had a lot of good people behind me, but it’s probably number one, my dad,” Cox said. “My dad has sacrificed a lot. He loves racing, but my dad sacrificed a lot for us to be able to go racing, and I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Before the season-ending World Finals, Cox will have one more chance to get another win at his home track, GALOT Motorsports Park, at DragWars presented by ProFab on Oct. 5-7. He’s on the cusp of his first win of the season after qualifying No. 1 and reaching the final round two weeks ago at Darlington.
“It’ll probably be pretty emotional,” Cox said of his last hometown appearance as a driver. “The very last race that was ever raced at Benson when it was still called Dunn-Benson Drag Strip, I won that race. Then the very first race that was ever raced there when they called it GALOT, I won that race. That racetrack has always been really, really good to me.
“Man, I have had a very, very, very fast car all year. I just hadn’t been able to figure out how to get a win,” Cox continued. “It would be very, very special to me if I could go out with a win at GALOT. In all seriousness, it’ll probably be the last race that I’ll ever run at GALOT. I ran really good in Darlington and I hope I can go down there and run really good in front of my home people.”