As Josh Hart’s rookie season ended in 2021 the rookie driver invited a long-time business associate and friend to the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Chris Armstrong, a fellow Ocala, Florida resident, was familiar with Hart’s Burnyzz Speed Shop and satellite businesses but had not seen him in action at an NHRA national event. After a weekend at the track Armstrong’s previous experience and memories of a life in motorsports were rekindled and he began to talk with Hart how he could assist the young team owner in expanding his Top Fuel racing operation.
“My brother and I used to own a circle track. We built it up and had four late model teams,” said Armstrong. “I have always had a passion for racing competition. We sold the facility and my life went in a different direction. I was involved with building the new Burnyzz Speed Shop facility and we had been friends for years. He invited me to the Las Vegas race in 2021 and it literally captured me. I am 53 years old, and I can’t just go play football, or softball anymore, But I am still a very competitive person. So I fell in love with that side of this business and sport. That’s what drew me in, it was the competitive nature of this sport, and all these teams, and also my respect for Josh and who he is as a man, a father, and a competitor.”
Armstrong has always been a man of action with a flair for business expansion. He and his brother Scott built Armstrong Homes from a niche custom home business to a top 100 residential home construction empire annually building over 1,000 homes in central Florida. In addition to home construction Armstrong diversified and now has a stake in over 40 companies including involvement with national real estate powerhouses Keller Williams and Lennar Homes.
“My mom and dad started a construction business in Ocala and I was raised around that business. My brother Scott and I bought out our parents in 1991 when I was 22 years-old. When I started building we were doing about 15 homes a year, and we continued to build that business and our largest production years where 2006 and 2007. Both of those years we built a little over 1,200 homes each year, which put us in the top 80 builders in the United States,” said Armstrong. “We also own and operate 13 Keller Williams Realty offices, and in our real estate operation we have about 2,000 real estate agents. Now we are heavily involved in the residential land development side of the business. We did a big sale to Lennar Homes and I have stayed on as one of their private developers, and that is what currently takes up most of my time away from the track today.”
Heading into the 2022 NHRA season Armstrong invested in Hart’s team, attended almost all the national events and observed the business side of the team. Throughout the race weekends Armstrong would interact with guests and corporate representatives all with an eye on streamlining and improving the overall experience. The main goal of Armstrong’s contributions was to allow Hart to concentrate on racing and spending time with fans and sponsors.
“I still come as a fan even though I am a part owner of the team. It is a business. Josh and I treat it like a business but when we get to the races it is not the time to conduct business,” said Armstrong. “We do that more between the races. Josh is very interactive with his fans and with our sponsors. I try and help him be able to focus on those two groups.”
Two final round appearances and a handful of semifinal finishes kept Hart and the R+L Carriers Top Fuel team in the championship conversation heading into the Countdown. At the conclusion of the season the team finished seventh in the Camping World Drag Racing Series in their first full season on the tour and Armstrong’s biggest take away was how much work and behind the scenes activity it took to compete at the highest level of drag racing.
“I had no concept of how hard this is and the commitment that (crew chief) Ron Douglas and Dave Gaterell as the race team leaders give this team,” said Armstrong. “It is all consuming and this is all they think about full-time. The amount of time our teammates contribute for four days to be away from their families. I didn’t really realize that side of the business. We are family oriented as a race team and we want their families to be involved and welcome at the race track. Travel doesn’t allow for families to come to every race of course and this is what the average person or fan doesn’t see from the outside.”
As the team moves into the off-season and Armstrong reflects on a Top Ten season, he is both excited and impressed. For over 20 national events he was able to contribute to the team operations while also gaining a new appreciation and understanding of what it takes to get a Top Fuel team to every NHRA national event. Plans are in the works for new equipment and an improved at-track experience for the 2023 season and Armstrong is looking forward to continuing to contribute as an advisor and business partner.
“The way that we have grown in 2022 and the hurdles we had to overcome. We have made some major investments in the team in every area of our program,” said Armstrong. “All these things are being made in preparation for 2023. We have some new opportunities which we will announce in the off-season. We are very competitive, along with being very consistent, and I think we will be a top three team in 2023. We will have the best new equipment, and we are preparing to make an even stronger run for the championship. We are excited to start the season with the Gatornationals which we feel is our home track. “