There are a staggering number of variables involved in any given pass down a dragstrip, from the mechanical and physical elements to situational and atmospheric conditions. Those attributes become ever more the case when comparing two runs side-by-side or in seeking consistencies in a car from one lap to the next. Beyond the fine details the engine like the tuneup and the infinitesimal variances in the lubricants and all the parts and pieces inside the engine, there’s things like starting-line rubber buildup and prep of the surface, the length of the burnout, idle time, and the staging process, positioning in the staging beams, track temperatures, the engine and drivetrain temperatures at launch, wheelstands, milliseconds of tire-spin or shake, shift points, even gusts of wind, and so on to near infinity, that can alter the outcome of a run. So may factors, big and small, can sway an elapsed time one way or the other, that even the most underpowered, tame, and consistent of cars find it difficult to put the exact same numbers up twice in a row.
Take a notoriously violent type of racecar, where picture-perfect straight runs are overwhelmingly the exception, and where the driver manually operates a clutch and shifts a three-speed transmission, and the ability to repeat a performance at all takes on a whole new level of difficulty. But three times? That’s next level stuff.
Top Alcohol Funny Car racer DJ Cox, Jr. accomplished one of the more mind-bending statistical feats during qualifying on Friday and Saturday at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, when he recorded the exact same elapsed time to the thousandth on three consecutive runs over a two-day period. His initial 5.442-second pass, in Friday afternoon’s opening qualifier, placed him on the provisional pole. While he was ultimately overtaken for the top spot by weekend-long qualifying partner Sean Bellemeur in the final session, he was undoubtedly — we don’t even have to go look — the single most consistent racecar to that point anywhere on the property, in any eliminator.
Cox’s car, of course, had to be perfect. But even the atmospheric conditions, while very similar, varied some. He clocked his first run, a 269.83 mph blast, on Friday afternoon, with a 71 degree air temperature, 56 percent relative humidity, a barometer of 30.21, and adjusted altitude of 1,552 feet. On the second run, later that afternoon, the temperature had risen slightly to 76 degrees, relative humidity 51 percent, barometer 30.17 inches, and the adjusted altitude at 1,947 feet. Run three, on Saturday morning, repeated the 71 degree air temperature from the day prior, with the relative humidity at 68 percent, barometer 30.26 inches, and adjusted altitude checking in at 1,596 feet.
Looking at the down-track incrementals alone, that the final elapsed time came out identical on all three runs is impressive. The 60-foot time varied as much .007 seconds; the 330-foot time by .016; and the 1/8-mile time by a lone hundredth. It was at that point, at mid-track, that the three runs began to align, as the 1,000-foot times were separated by a mere .004 seconds. The terminal speeds likewise varied a bit: 269.62, 269.08, and 268.12 mph.
But if you watched the runs, you’d really be shocked. Cox kept the car relatively straight and true — straight by Top Alcohol Funny Car standards, anyway — in the opener, but was then wheels-up and out of the groove, fighting it back to the center on his second shot, and out of the groove toward the wall on the last. They didn’t look like the same run, and any slight deviation in any element of the car, the track, or the run could have added numbers, but the clocks tell the story.
Its was not Cox’s qualifying magic that highlighted his weekend in the end, however, although it’s a story he’s sure to tell for years to come. Rather, it was the outcome of raceday that mattered most, as he disposed of Nick Januik, Phil Burkart, and Bellemeur to secure his third NHRA national event victory on Sunday afternoon. For the record, he didn’t clock a 5.44-anything in eliminations, but he did run in the 5.40’s on every single lap of the weekend, and even gave another three-peat a real run with elapsed times of 5.472, 5.479, and 5.477 in succession to close it out.
In the recent annals of statistically unlikely events, we’d rank this feat roughly equal to Erica Enders’ and Jonathan Gray’s rare double perfect lights at the 2014 NHRA Finals, but still behind Jose Gonzalez and Signei Frigo, who matched all nine visible digits on the scoreboard — elapsed time and speed — in a Pro Modified race at Orlando in 2019.