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posted: 3/7/2010 12:01 AM

Sprint racing is a passion to Warren Township family

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  • Jason Cox, a senior at Warren Township High School, left, and his father, Tim, are heavily involved in Sprint car racing, including working on their own cars.

    Jason Cox, a senior at Warren Township High School, left, and his father, Tim, are heavily involved in Sprint car racing, including working on their own cars.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer


He's been around fast cars pretty much all his life, but Jason Cox vividly remembers his first competition at age 8.

"It was in the winter. We raced in a swine barn in Columbus, Ohio, at the fairgrounds," says Cox, now a senior at Warren Township High School.

The timing wasn't random.

"The reason he started in the wintertime is because his dad raced in the summer," jokes Tim Cox, the more experienced of the Park City family racing duo.

As the elder Cox recalls, Jason lapped the competition - an early indication of the talent and success he later would enjoy as a racer of very fast cars.

As a driver in the Hoosier Outlaw Sprint Series, held at various tracks in Indiana, Jason Cox is continuing a family racing tradition that has no apparent end in sight.

"My dad was a flag man, a starter, at Waukegan Speedway when I was a little kid," explained Tim Cox, who won the 2009 HOSS championship.

"I grew up weekends going with him and Jason did the same thing. We didn't force him into it (but) when he started doing the Quarter Midgets we knew we were in trouble."

It's hard to equate the polite, soft-spoken senior with the frantic pace and ever-present potential for danger that comes with navigating 800-horsepower vehicles on short oval tracks at speeds up to 140 mph.

"There's a lot of kids who don't know I do it," he said. "I don't like talking about myself."

From May through October, friends more or less stop calling. They know Jason will either be working on his car or driving it.

"It takes up my whole life," he said recently at the family home. One corner of the small family room is crammed with trophies big and small. In an attached heated garage, he and his dad continue to work on rebuilding the frame and engine of his dad's Sprint car.

"We do everything ourselves," says Tim Cox.

"You don't have to trust someone else's work," adds Jason.

Father and son are multiple award-winners and occasional opponents on the track. They race Sprint cars, powerful machines capable of speeds up to 140 mph.

Built to navigate short oval or circular tracks, the most obvious feature of the Sprint cars are the wings that provide downward thrust to stabilize the cars and allow drivers to take turns at high speed.

The knowledge of the sport isn't limited to the two admitted gear heads.

"They're a one piece car," says Cheryl Cox, who has been with her son and husband every step of the way, including most weekends in the summer.

"They have big wheels on the back - they look like a big dune buggy."

In this area, Sprint car racing is a popular attraction at Wilmot Speedway, a dirt track just north of the Illinois-Wisconsin border, where Jason was Rookie of the Year in 2008. He wanted to test his skills on asphalt in the Hoosier series but had a hurdle to pass before getting in his car.

To compete in the HOSS series as a 14 year old, Jason had to go through a special process called "emancipation" because he was under normal age.

Basically, he was being asked by a legal authority whether he was of sound mind and knew what he was getting into.

"I left the room and a judge talked to him," says Tim Cox.

The family recognizes the danger.

"It's always something in the back of your mind," says Jason, who has suffered a concussion in a crash but has not been seriously injured.

The last two years, he has taken welding and fabrication classes at Warren's tech campus at the College of Lake County. One week during Cox's junior year, Alan Thomas, the campus coordinator for Warren, noticed Jason had come in on crutches.

"I found out he was racing cars. The car flipped, five, six, seven times," Thomas said. "I didn't realize those cars went so fast."

Cox raced the Hoosier series full-time last year but his season was cut short in June when he broke his collar bone. That wasn't on the track but driving a four-wheeler as he was "just being a kid," Cox explained.

There are purses but at best, the family drivers hope to break even on expenses. This season begins in May and father and son will compete in the Hoosier Outlaw Super Sprints series, with Tim gunning for Rookie of the Year.

They already have spend long hours working on their cars. Tim Cox drives a car owned by someone else. Jason has his own car, which is in a family friend's garage in Milwaukee.

"They build it," says Cheryl Cox. "They both do all the work on it themselves. They're quite handy."

Jason says his dream would be to race for a living, but for now it's more of a hobby. Getting to higher levels, such as NASCAR, requires financial backing.

"It's not that he doesn't have the talent. The biggest thing is having sponsors behind you," according to Tim Cox.

His son also has another attribute that should serve him well behind the wheel.

"Someone told me he's not afraid to go fast," says Tim Cox. "It's easy to get someone to slow down but hard to get someone to go fast."