Photos by Kevin DiOssi
For someone who is frequently in the spotlight as an NFL Pro Bowler, Super Bowl winner, and one of the league’s best defensive tackles playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, Fletcher Cox plays a completely different position as the driving force behind Fletcher Cox Racing. And like his day job, Fletcher’s racing endeavor features a roster of talented, championship-caliber individuals who are competitive to the core.
Like many of us, Fletcher found his love of racing through family, namely his older brother Shaddrick “Trell” Cox. Trell had an ‘84 standard cab, short-bed Chevy pickup with a small-block engine on nitrous prior to the Mustang featured here.
“We would always go to the local dragstrip, Junkyard #1 Speedway in Canton, Mississippi,” Fletcher explained to us. He was already a drag racing fan by the age of 11 and the eighth-mile drag strip closest to home was where Trell, who often acted as a father figure to Fletcher, showed him the ropes of racing.
When Fletcher was a senior in high school, Trell purchased this particular Fox-body Mustang that had already been modified and grudge raced quite a bit. As most of us do, Trell modified the car to fit his needs and his personality, and it wasn’t long after that Trell changed the outside of the car and gave it its Goldust persona.
Much like the Mustang’s namesake, who is currently the WWE’s longest-active wrestler with a career spanning 28 years, the notchback has been through many changes throughout its racing history. Early on, when he wasn’t forming his football talents on the high school gridiron, Fletcher was making hits in his ’99 Trans Am, and Trell made him the wheel man for his Mustang, which clocked 5.50s through the eighth-mile on its stock suspension.
“Trell was a wrench man who liked to watch the car run,” Fletcher explained.
Over the next several years, Trell, a mechanic by trade, developed the Mustang while Fletcher continued to develop his education and football career at Mississippi State University. When he wasn’t in school or playing football, Fletcher would find his way back to the track with his brother.
By the time Fletcher met fellow racer Shawn Ayers, he already had a few years in the NFL under his belt, but was still involved with drag racing as much as time would allow.
“I was driving my car in X275 then,” Shawn recalled. “I was winning a bunch of races and we became friends.” Fletcher became further interested in X275 competition, but just as life in general was on an upswing, Fletcher’s mentor and brother Trell passed away suddenly early in 2015.
The life lessons that Trell shared with Fletcher, along with his passion for cars and drag racing, will always be something to remind him of his brother going forward in life, and Fletcher recently memorialized his brother on the Cox Racing trailer, signifying the very important part he was to the team.
Later in 2015, Fletcher purchased a 1969 Camaro to run in X275 and had Jason Hutcheson at the wheel of that particular machine. He eventually sold that, though, as he sought to step into the quicker and faster Pro Drag Radial/Radial vs. the World arena.
One day, he asks me ‘If I buy a Radial vs. the World car, would you drive it?’ I said sure,” Shawn told us. It wasn’t long after that Fletcher purchased the formerly Andrew Alepa-owned and Pro Line Racing-powered Fox-body Mustang, and Fletcher and Shawn went racing with the twin-turbocharged machine. As quick and impressive as the RVW Mustang was, Fletcher opted to part ways with it and sold the twin-turbo Mustang the following year. During that time, however, he and Shawn had met the dynamic duo of Nick and Rich Bruder, and together, they focused their attention on Goldust.
With the Camaro and the second Mustang gone and a desire to stay in X275 and Limited Drag Radial, the team decided that the Mustang’s nitrous combination was not going to cut it.
“They helped out with the conversion to a turbo on Goldust, and the relationship has continued to grow,” said Fletcher of the Bruder brothers. As suggested by the Bruders, Goldust’s new engine combination changed from the nitrous combination to a DiSomma Racing Engines-built, all-billet aluminum 470ci small-block with a 98mm turbocharger. It was this methanol-burning powerplant that propelled Goldust to the Limited Drag Radial Record elapsed time of 4.12 seconds in 2017, and it was the same combination that the Cox Racing team and Goldust made their 2017 NMCA debut with at the second stop of the season at Atlanta Dragway.
Running in Mickey Thompson Radial Wars, the small-block-powered Mustang was slightly outgunned in a field of 500-plus-inch engines, but the team had it running well and Shawn piloted the Mustang to a 4.15 for sixth place on the qualifying sheet. He had his work cut out for him in the first round of eliminations, as he faced Josh Klugger, who would go on to win the championship. Ayers grabbed a slight advantage off the tree, but his 4.14 was not enough to get around Klugger’s 3.99 run.
Though the team faced an early first-round exit, Fletcher was impressed enough with how well run the event and organization was to commit to a full season of NMCA competition for 2018, but in the Street Outlaw category.
“I didn’t want to change up a whole lot on the car and wanted to keep it small-block,” Fletcher explained. “We talked to ProCharger a lot last year and decided to go with them and the small-block for this year. They’ve been really good to us. We would have had to go with a Hemi and twin turbos otherwise.”
The new powerplant is another 470ci bullet built by DiSomma Racing Engines. To meet the class rules, Ryan Rakestraw at RK Racecraft converted the car to burn gasoline instead of methanol, and the small-block was fitted with a ProCharger F-1X-12R supercharger and an air-to-water intercooler.
When the 2018 NMCA season began, Goldust arrived wearing a revised paint scheme and Goldust mural on the hood. The new engine combination proved potent, with the team grabbing third place in qualifying with a 4.42 run. During eliminations, Shawn drove around Rob Goss and Brian Criste, both of who struggled to get down the track. In the third and final round, though, the competition was tight as he faced Daniel Pharris. Shawn was first off the tree and used the holeshot to take the trip to the Aerospace Winner’s Circle after the 4.335-to-4.330 final round. It was a well-deserved win for the team, as they had to work for it between rounds.
“We had the car front to the back apart, but at the end of the day we were successful, and we got to the Winner’s Circle, which made it even more rewarding,” Fletcher recalled.
The second race of the season saw cool weather foster ET record-breaking runs, and Andy Manson set the pace in qualifying with a 4.28, while Goldust was right on his heels with a 4.30. In the first round of eliminations, Manson lowered that time to a 4.24, and Shawn returned the volley with a 4.23 during his second-round lap. Manson was 4.25 in the third round and Shawn went 4.24. It was not surprising then that the two met in what would have been an epic final-round battle. The build up was there, but Manson knocked the tires off shortly into the run, and Shawn posted up another 4.24 to collect the teams’ second event win, and the class ET record, which still stands at the time this article was written.
Things were thus looking favorable going into Bowling Green for the third NMCA race of the season. Goldust grabbed the number-one qualifier status with a 4.32 effort, and took out Alan Felts and Tom Marshall on its way to the final round where the opponent was once again, Daniel Pharris. The team was unfortunately nursing a hurt engine and threw a hot tuneup in it to try and hang with Pharris, but it proved too hot for the track to hold and they had to settle for runner-up honors.
While the Cox Racing team heads to the Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing in Joliet, Illinois, as this is written, team captain Fletcher is headed to training camp for the 2018 NFL season and is leaving the drag racing team in the hands of his very capable crew.
“I take care of his stuff just like its mine,” Shawn explained. “We take it home and keep it up and ready for the next race—he can trust me and we have that bond together. He’s confident that when I let go of the button, I’m going to take care of it like it’s mine.”
Having collected a number of records and event wins, Fletcher has definitely assembled a championship-caliber team, and understands what it takes to be at the top of any game.
“It’s nice working with a professional guy like Fletcher,” said Nick Bruder. “He has the same winning mentality for racing as he does on the football field. We all get a long as a team, keep pushing through the tough times, and keep making the car faster and faster. My brother Rich worked on and off with him, and now we both work with him, bounce the tuning off of each other. We change something every pass to keep moving forward, and race the track round by round. You can’t take anyone lightly.” Rich Bruder currently handles crew chief and maintenance duties for the team as well.
“I’m very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in and get to do what I love,” Shawn told us. I wanted to run for the NMCA championship and Fletcher is nice enough to let us take the car and rig and do that, as he won’t be at any more races this year because of football. He’s very competitive and that’s where we get along even better, because I’m that way. He wants to win and be at the top. And will go to any means that he can to be at the top,” Shawn said of his now close friend whom he often goes hunting and fishing with when they’re not racing.
“I’ve known Shawn a long time; we’re both country boys, and our relationship has grown into a best friendship,” Fletcher expressed. “This year has really been exciting for us, especially with coming out with a new combo. I don’t think any of this stuff can be done without the people on the race team and our sponsors. Brad Crotts helps out a lot in the pits. He’s the truck driver, the detail guy, and keeps everything in order around here. Steven Auglis with The Racing Vids does a great job and records every pass. As a team, you come back and look at every pass and that’s a big part of our success being able to review things. The more that the little things slide by, the more you’re setting yourself up for failure.”
The secret has been out for a while that Fletcher has another car being built by Racecraft Inc. It’s a classic fastback Mustang that will be set up for Outlaw Drag Radial and NMCA Radial Wars and powered by a DiSomma Racing Engines Hemi. We had to ask if that means Fletcher will once again jump into the driver’s seat.
“I can do it if I want to, but anything can happen in drag racing. Now the race car is safer than your daily driver, but right now, for my protection and career, it’s not the time for me to drive,” Fletcher explained. “When I’m done playing football, I’m going to drive this [Goldust] car and Shawn the Radial Wars car.” In the mean time, Fletcher does find his way into the driver’s seat occasionally.
“He loves to get in and warm it up and romp on it,” Shawn told us. And when Fletcher is at the track, he’s the guy that brings Shawn into the beams.
Despite being a top-rated defensive player, Fletcher Cox has proven that if presented with an opportunity, he can seize it and score big, whether it’s on the gridiron or on the drag strip.
Owner: Fletcher Cox
Driver: Shawn Ayers
Hometown: Madison, Mississippi
Occupation: NFL Defensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Class: Vortech Superchargers Street Outlaw
Crew: Nick Bruder, Rich Bruder, Brad Crotts, Steven Auglis
Engine builder: DiSomma Racing Engines
Displacement: 470 cubic inches
Block: Weston Machine billet aluminum
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock SC1 aluminum cylinder heads
EFI system: FuelTech FT600 tuned by Nick and Rich Bruder
Power-adder: ProCharger F1X-12R supercharger
Headers and exhaust: Custom fabricated zoomie-style headers
Transmission Builder: Dave Klaput, Proformance Racing Transmissions
Sponsors: DiSomma Racing Engines, VP Racing Fuels, ProCharger, Mickey Thompson Tires, Neal Chance Converters, Proformance Racing Transmissions, Billet Atomizer Injectors, Moroso, MacFab, Glass Life Atlanta, Wicked Graphics, The Racing Vids, Bruder Brothers Racing, Davis Technologies, RK Racecraft, Menscer Motorsports