(1/7/2023 – Alex Nieten) Sacramento, CA… Last year Justyn Cox found himself somewhat discouraged and uncertain of his racing future when the door opened to reunite with a former team where he’d experienced success, leading to Cox getting a second chance at a NARC Sprint Car championship in 2023.
After an underwhelming start to 2022 with his own team, Cox shelved his family car and wasn’t sure what would come next. Then in the fall, Bates-Hamilton Racing and Tim Kaeding decided to go in different directions.
Cox was familiar with the team owned by Joshua Bates and Roger Hamilton, having filled in for an injured Kaeding in the No. 42X back in 2018. Cox helped them secure the SCCT owner’s championship, and the pairing nearly won Trophy Cup.
With their past success and his own car on the sidelines, Cox decided to reach out.
“It was kind of just proper timing,” Cox said. “I hate to see anyone lose a ride, but when I saw that happened, I was kind of sitting idle. I had big plans for my own team, but it just wasn’t going the way that I thought it should. I just wasn’t enjoying racing at the time.
“When I decided to park my own team for a while and take a break, it was probably about a month after that they parted ways with TK,” Cox continued. “I thought it was maybe a good time to call them and see about getting in the car. There were some big races coming up. I just wanted to see if I still enjoyed racing maybe from a different outlook. Sometimes driving for people can open your eyes in a great light or a negative light.”
The light he found was bright and reassuring. BHR decided to bring him back aboard for a few races. Their first night reunited was October’s Morrie Williams Memorial at Keller Auto Speedway. In the second of the twin-20 lap features, Cox lined up on the front row and stayed near the top of the leaderboard the entire race, ultimately finishing second after nearly stealing the win in the final corner. The result marked his best finish to date with NARC.
After the early success, the team decided to pencil in a few more nights with Cox behind the wheel.
“Originally it was just going to be the Williams race and Trophy Cup,” Cox recalled. “It kind of just seemed to progress from there. I think running off the bat with a podium at the Williams race helped propel a little bit of excitement in the team.”
Cox went on to wheel the car for the final four races of the NARC campaign, picking up a trio of top-tens to close out the season. The consistency was encouraging for the team and revitalized Cox who had been combating some confidence issues after the first half of the year with his family car hadn’t gone according to plan.
“It was really encouraging because I’ve had a rough year for me,” Cox admitted. “I picked up a win at a local Watsonville show, but I just wasn’t competitive in my own stuff. For whatever reason, things weren’t clicking right. When you get in a slump, it’s really tough mentally to get out of it. So, to kind of hop back in at Hanford, which is one of my favorite tracks, and find speed in the second race felt really good… It kind of made me hungry to do it a lot more.”
Racing a lot more with the team is exactly what Cox is now set to do with the 2023 season on the horizon. The team was pleased enough with Cox’s performance that they decided to bring him back as their full-time driver for this year with their focus on a NARC title run.
“I think it was after Kern (County Raceway Park), where we had a really good run there from the back,” Cox said. “Roger was just really happy, and I wasn’t actually scheduled to run Stockton the following weekend. So, I kind of thought Kern was my last race. After the run, Roger was really happy and mentioned he’d really like me to run Stockton, so him and Josh put something together and got me back there.
“Stockton was going okay until I had an issue,” Cox continued. “I almost thought that was the end of it. Roger came down from the stands and pulled me aside and said he’d really like me to be his driver. We just had to work out a couple details and make sure his sponsors were okay with it and obviously Josh and Scotty (Taylor) and everybody involved. I think I heard a week into December that it was going to happen. It was just a big weight off my shoulders to hear from Josh and Roger that they believed in me and thought I was a good fit.”
This season will mark Cox’s second attempt at completing the full NARC campaign. The Clarksburg native’s rookie campaign came back in 2016 when he impressed by finishing third in points and claiming Rookie of the Year honors.
While it will be his sophomore try at tackling the entire NARC season, it’ll be Cox’s first with BHR. Back when he helped them wrap up the SCCT owner’s title, the team primarily focused on 360 racing and has since shifted their focus more towards 410s. Cox is looking forward to chasing a title with a team he has a history with and has built a solid rapport.
“The dynamic is good,” Cox said. “It’s all positive vibes. We’re all there to obviously do well but also enjoy what we’re doing. We’re very blessed to be at the racetrack. Those guys put in a lot of hard work. Josh spends a lot of hours at the shop. Scotty comes all the time to the shop to help and so does Roger. They’re just dedicated to the sport. They love it.”
The BHR team has become one of the steadiest forces on the NARC tour since adding some 410 engines to the shop. Over the past two seasons they collected three series victories with Tim Kaeding and finished third in points in 2021, narrowly missing the runner-up spot by just a point.
Heading into the season Cox has one main goal for the NARC campaign at that is to, at the least, replicate his points finish in 2016 by claiming one of the top-three spots. Another item on the bucket list he’ll have a chance to cross off this season is winning a NARC race. He’s finished third and second in his career, but the top spot of the podium has eluded him through 42 career feature starts. While he’ll be happy to get a win at any track, Cox has one particular race circled where an inaugural series victory would be a storybook moment.
“I think I’m kind of known as the guy that can run Placerville really well, so if we can pick off a Bradway (Memorial), that would mean the world to Josh, Roger, and Scotty,” Cox said.
“They’ve made it known that they want to win the Bradway. They almost did last year with Kyle (Hirst). I’ve done it with the SCCT portion, so if I can back it up and win the NARC side, especially if that was my first one, I could quit that day. That would be amazing. The Bradway, as a whole, is such a special race.”
Cox is also looking forward to the huge Pacific Northwest swing in mid-June that concludes with the $50,000 to win Dirt Cup at Skagit Speedway. Even though he’s from California, much of Cox’s early sprint car experience came in the Northwest driving for Harley Van Dyke.
“I’m really looking forward to the Northwest swing,” Cox commented. “I’ve spent a lot of years going to Oregon. I’ve always ran the Northern Speedweeks, and I kind of got my feet wet in the Northwest. My rookie year in a sprint car I won the Rookie of the Year award for the ASCS Northwest region.”
Just a tad more than two months remain before the 2023 NARC season receives the green flag at Silver Dollar Speedway. With Cox fitting in so well in the Bates-Hamilton Racing organization and the team’s success over the past few seasons, the combination will be one to watch throughout the duration of the campaign. After the uncertainty that came with parking his family car last summer, Cox couldn’t be more appreciative of the opportunity.
“I’m just excited and humbled to do this with Josh, Roger, Scotty, and Bates-Hamilton Racing as a whole,” Cox said. “I’m excited to hopefully find a home with a team. I’ve had great opportunities over the years and it’s been great, but to finally get to that extra little hump of a team that runs 410s is just a dream come true.”