A world famous DJ has taken residence in Australia and his childhood passion for motorsport is being indulged in the ranks of Pro Street drag racing.
Carl Cox loves talking about his cars. Getting to discuss his hobby is a great change from promoting his latest tour or talking up a record label. We asked one question and he took 45 minutes with his answer – passion is no question in this guy.
Cox's formative years in England injected his love for all things automotive. One of his friends had a father who was a mechanic, specialising in fixing American cars. While the streets of late sixties and early seventies South London were filled with Minis, Zephyr Zodiacs, Morris Minors, Cortinas and other small makes, Cox got a window to a world of Chevy Impalas, Ford Mustangs and Pontiac Firebirds.
“He had all these exotic American cars,” Cox remembered. “They took up all the road. First and foremost you heard the engine - the Minis and Morris Minors had nothing on the big V8s.”
The same friends would go to Santa Pod Raceway and take Carl along to see street drag racing and occasionally events featuring Top Fuel dragsters, at a time when American stars like Don Garlits were doing world tours.
“I was into it as a fan as a kid and I haven't grown up yet,” said Cox. “All I wanted to do to my cars was to modify and go faster. Any car between 40 pounds and 120 pounds I used to get. They werw bangers that looked like crap on the outside but went like hell on the inside. I would buy anything and street race it and drag race it.
“To go drag racing you need money, but I never had any. I would go to to the breakers yard if I broke an axle or engine mount ends and every weekend I went to the drags I would break something. I had to use the same car to go to work in as I raced, it was a labour of love.”
Competing at Run What Ya Brung events at Santa Pod, Cox happened on a Mk1 Ford Capri and it was the fastest car he had raced at the time. Mostly stock but with a 45 Weber carb on it that did little more than make fuel economy worse, he eventually backfired the car and blew it up.
With a burgeoning DJ career in the early 80s, Cox needed to switch from speed to reliability.
“I thought this is not my calling, I need to find a car that will get me to my gigs, make sure I can make those parties, so I then bought more sensible cars that would work.”
As his DJ career blossomed (see sidebar), Cox was able to set up a second home in Australia where he was often performing at events. Falling in love with the country and settling into Victoria's Mornington Peninsula, automotive passions were once again inflamed.
“When I moved into a holiday home in Frankston, I wanted to ride motorcycles again. I had friends who were into their motorcycles and I hadn't ridden for 25 years, but the whole DNA of the motorbike went straight back into me.
“That was it, I was back into the hood, riding up and down the Hume Highway on a 250 thinking I was the king of the road. I'd never felt the wind like that, or the b-double trucks trying to kill me, and I just had to get a bigger bike.
“The friends I met with motorcycles were also into cars one of the guys was Rod Taylor. He had been building a Mustang coupe he wanted to keep as street as possible, but I could hear it two blocks away. He was telling me he runs ten second quarters - the quickest I ever did was 17s at 87mph! I loved it.”
Cox had heard about the Calder Park drag strip some 12 previous and finally decided to check it out. The sights, sounds and smells took him back to his childhood at Santa Pod and he would be hooked.
“I hadn't been to the drags for years. I got to Calder Park and I thought bloody hell. I was watching Cortinas and Capris running 10s, 9s and 8s and seeing the twin turbos, in my day they were all N/A. They were running eights at 145mph as a street car and I thought you have to be kidding me.”
Learning about all the modern technology that was going into these quick street cars, Carl got to meet Frank Marchese from Dandy Engines – famed for providing big amounts of reliable street horsepower.
Friends mentioned to Cox that there was a neat Holden Premier up for sale, so he investigated what turned out to be a barn find restored into a Targa Tasmania contender.
“He had the Monaro seats, striped bonnet, factory green paint, rally wheels, for me it looked really cool. 186, triple carbs and overbore pistons, but it wasn't as powerful as you would think. I bought the car because I did want an Aussie muscle car in my collection.
“I thought I would get more props buying that car but the boys all looked at me and thought I had been stitched up! They gave me so much shit and they said the engine was coming out. I said I had only just bought the bloody thing.”
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About 625 horsepower ended up going under the bonnet and for Cox that made it feel like a rocketship. He wanted to go to Heathcote to see what time it would do – but the timing could have been better.
“Heathcote do a thing on Boxing Day, of course the night before was Christmas so we were all on the piss and the next day we were going drag racing.
“I had never been to this strip and I had the hangover from hell. Here I was with just a lap belt thinking what the hell am I doing here. I got off the footbrake and away I was gone. I think it was a 12.2 The boys were disappointed as they knew it was a 10 second car.
“A friend of mine took me up the lights in the Prem, I went forward, he told me to go back, back into stage, I thought fuck it and just left, the guy who was doing the timing thought 'where is he going?' I just thought I was too hung over for this.
“Next time I went to Heathcote we ran better times. We dropped the pipes, upped the fuel and got to a 10.6.”
Cox added more cars to his collection including a 1969 Roadrunner which copped a 572 Hemi crate motor and ran more tens as well as a 1969 Mustang. He wanted to go faster but that would demand cutting up one of these beautiful cars.
“I spoke to Frank from Dandy Engines and he knew a guy selling a Capri, like the one I used to drag race. It was orange and it had massive reverse cowl and the guy had spent $100k already but ran out of dough.
“I wanted to build a drag car but I wanted to save the money and save the fastback Mustang so we went and got the Capri and brought it back to Melbourne. I now had a fully fledged drag car, the next question was how fast do you want to go? They said there was potential for 6s at over 200mph and I said you have to be kidding me. I just wanted to run eights. But they knew me and then it would be sevens and then it would be sixes.”
With the team growing to include Joe Gauci from Proflow Sydney, the car was revised to four link suspension instead of a ladder bar and a 2000-odd horsepower Dandy Engines small block Ford went in.
The team towed to Sydney Dragway for their first testing, but a seized oil pump ended up canning the weekend before the team could even get on to the track.
“I said to the boys to relax and I would watch and observe everything at the track and we would get the car back to do the autopsy and find the problem. Frank gave a sigh of relief that it wasn't his engine or gearbox, just a stupid component. We got a new one, put it in and it was perfect.
“We went to Calder Park just doing 60 foot passes and 330 foot passes to see how I felt in the car. I am now in this 2000 horsepower Capri all strapped in and they have dumbed the thing down.
“I had never been on boost before, I didn't know how much 25psi was. I went up, did the burnout, smoke everywhere, went to the line, can you imagine the anticipation? Half of my friends are there and here I am driving the car, I broke the light put the foot on the brake, got the transbrake in, rev limit, bump in, I let the button go and my god, my heart was in my mouth. It was like someone had punched me in the back of the head and the car went up to the sky. I was like god damn. I thought roll it out to the end, but I gave it a little squeeze and it squirmed, they thought I would spin it out. I couldn't even tell them what it felt like, it was pure violence, the most brutal thing I have ever been in and it was a 1.2 60 foot straight off the bat - I said let me get A to B at least!”
The next stage was to head to Sydney Dragway where Cox could get his ANDRA licence, though the meaning of 'go for it' got lost in translation.
“All of the officials from ANDRA have got their pen and paper out. I had been waiting nearly two years for this car and I didn't know what it would take to go full pin A to B. The officials said make sure he does a half track pass, Rod says go for it. So I was like okay, burnout nice, got to the line, bump in, let it rip, bam it didn't come up, stayed down, changed to second, got to half track, they are all watching me go full track, I pulled the chute and I ran an 8.2 at like 186mph.
“The boys were laughing their heads off, for me that was great, I knew where I was at with the car and the monkey was off my back.”
With clean passes being made, the team were able to begin to develop the car. Cox knew the car had been built for Pro Street Blown, but no one had really brought up the idea of racing in a bracket yet while he continued to build experience.
“I had been watching all the other videos of all the cars in Pro Street Blown but I had never said anything to anyone about it. I went back in November and this time it was to race.”
Some early testing saw the team get a handle on suspension and produce a straight and true vehicle, getting 60 foot times into the 1.1s.
“I was getting used to the car and feeling really good. I was going for qualifying and shit was getting real. Frank was running around like a headless chicken. My first run was 7.6, running 191mph, then one run it felt really good, fast to half track, I got to the other end and it was a 7.1. The crowd went mad and the commentators went mental - the boys were jumping up and down. We had gone from 8.0 to 7.1 without trying and that was the top qualifying run of the day. Everybody knew where the car was now and at the time there weren't many cars running quicker. I thought if I keep this up I could even win a round.”
It's refreshing to hear Cox speak with such excitement for even the potential of a race win. Sometimes in drag racing we grow immune to the emotions that come with victory, but in a new participant those same emotions are fresh and real.
“Then we won a race, won the next one, won another and then I was in the final and I was thinking how did I get here? I was up against Rob Owen's Torana that had been in the hunt for many years, their car was running eights and I was running mid sevens all day. I knew If I could cut a light I was out of there.
“The lights were on in the dark, he goes in, I go in, up on boost, and as soon as I saw the tree go down I cut the light, .058 to .063. It was on the wheelie bar, wheels up, I thought keep going Coxy, don't look back, half track, second gear, 7.6/189mph and I had just won a Pro street Blown round.
“It was like a bloody movie, I had my head in my hands and I was almost in tears, from going back to the 70s to my idea of what it was like to do this, to be competitive enough to win a round was unbelievable.
“My team and the people involved have persevered so much and it is still unbelievable now.”
The next stage for this sleek Ford Capri will be to aim for the six second zone. Cox believes that is something the car is well capable of. He recently spent time at the Australian Nationals watching racers across all categories do their thing.
“I watched those Rapisarda guys run, it was such a bone shaker,” he said. “Nothing compares to it.
“I appreciate other drivers and teams and support them, and learn from them, how they cut lights, how they do burnouts, because you never know everything. It is always good to learn and observe.”
While progression has been smooth, Cox knows that drag racing has a habit of throwing up hurdles when you least suspect them. He has nothing but respect and love for the weapon he has produced, an epitome of his childhood dream.
“If shit gets real and stuff goes wrong I ever feel like it will get hairy I will pull the chutes. You see so many people try to be heroes and it goes wrong and the car is in pieces and they are in hospital, I don't ever want to do that.
“If the car got quicker and I didn't feel I could keep up with sixes I would just stick to sevens, I know I could do that very well.”
Cox will be targeting not just APSA events but also Street Machine Drag Week later this year with his Premier.
Setting records, playing records
There's not many drag racers worldwide who could list professional DJ as their primary occupation. Cox is the exception.
Like his passion for fast cars, his talents for tying in music to the mood of a night also grew young.
“My father was a bus driver, my mum was a midwife and they would have friends around to the house,” Cox said. “The music played a big part in that. My dad used to play the records, and he was the consummate host. The player we had in those days was for a 45 record, which would play for three minutes and then the next one would play. They would stack up and it was my job to restack the records after 10 minutes.
“As a kid I questioned what kind of kid job this was and thought Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Elvis, that will do. They would be dancing to the music selection I would play and I thought actually this is not too bad. I followed the path of being a DJ from that point.”
Cox couldn't imagine choosing music for a living and so pursued some trades.
“I was a chippy for ages, a painter decorator by trade and a scaffolder. I was hands on and outdoorsy and on the weekends I would DJ, doing birthdays, school discos and pubs. That was my schooling, it didn't just come to me, I was working really hard.
“Then I was putting on my own parties, I had my supporters who would come and it didn't matter where it was, they would come because they knew it would be really good. Around 1984-85 I made a decision to follow my destiny as a DJ over being a scaffolder. If I was to continue as a scaffolder I would have set up a company and franchises, but I decided to take a pay drop to 60 pounds for a gig versus 600 pounds for scaffolding. For the first three years I was like 'what have I done?' I thought I would have to go crawling back.
“But I had to make a choice at a crossroads and I chose the right path.”
Cox made a hit record called I Want You, charting in the UK and even making it to Australia. In a time where DJs didn't regularly make the charts, Cox was getting a lot of attention and he was invited to do parties in Sydney and Melbourne.
“As soon as I came to Australia in 1989-90, that's when I fell in love with it. My popularity grew and grew here and I couldn't not be here in summer. I thought it would be nice to be able to turn the key to a place I called my second home.”
Settling into a place on the Mornington Peninsula, Cox was able to enjoy his cars and motorbikes.
“People are very cool about it, I can get out in my roadster while they have their SUVs dropping their kids off and I am whooping it up in a car and enjoying my life.”
Most well known in the techno scene, Cox released several more singles and albums across his career and even set up his own record labels. Performing at events across the world, a 15 year residency at the Space nightclub in Ibiza made Cox legendary and he recently ran his Pure tour around Australasia, taking in dates in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
This article originally ran in Drag News Magazine issue 24. Subscribe now and receive our hard copy each magazine.