Third year Top Fuel driver Josh Hart has been waiting for the start of the 2023 NHRA Gatornationals since he pulled the chutes for the last time at the NHRA Auto Club Finals in Pomona last November. The young driver from Ocala, Florida, battled through a tough sophomore season that saw the two-time Top Fuel winner only advance to two final rounds and his R+L Carriers/TechNet team chased consistency for 22 races. This weekend is a fresh start for one of the teams tabbed as a championship contender led by a rising star in the NHRA.
“I am putting 2022 behind me and totally focusing on racing for the championship in 2023,” said Hart. “I have a brand-new race car that I have never been more comfortable in. My crew chief Ron Douglas and the crew guys have been working their tails off all off-season. I am mentally ready to go out there and win races. I have won the Gatornationals before and I would like to get back into that winner’s circle.”
Hart stood in the Gainesville Raceway winner’s circle at the conclusion of his first Top Fuel national event as a professional, something only six other drivers have ever accomplished. In 2021 the successful Top Alcohol Dragster racer made the jump to Top Fuel, qualified No. 8 and then outran Clay Millican, Steve Torrence, Justin Ashley and Shawn Langdon to capture the Gatornationals Top Fuel title. Hart’s friend and NHRA legend Don “Big Daddy” Garlits was in attendance and shared the moment with the new star.
“It was amazing to win that first race and to have Don there,” said Hart, who went on to win another race in a partial season of competition in 2021. “We only raced about half the season in 2021 and we had so much success. This sport is very humbling and last year was tough. We know what we need to do this season and I think we will be a tough team. I want to race, beat the best drivers in the world and I think they will all be at the track this weekend. It is going to be a lot of fun.”
In addition to the Gatornationals competition Hart and the R+L Carriers/TechNet Top Fuel team will be competing in the Pep Boys Top Fuel All-Star Callout specialty race. This will be Hart’s first big money Top Fuel specialty race and he is ready for whatever comes his way.
“It’s going to be an awesome Callout and I’m super stoked,” said Hart. “There are no participation trophies here and every one of these drivers is tough. I learned a lot last year and I’m ready to roll. I’m proud to be a part of this group.”
In advance of the season kick-off race Hart and the NHRA will be hosting a Gatornationals FanFest event at Burnyzz Speed Shop in Ocala, Florida, Wednesday, March 8, from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. The free event will feature a car show, live music, food trucks and a driver autograph session with some of the biggest names in the sport as well as many former Gatornationals winners. The drivers will be signing autographs beginning at 7 p.m. and fans are welcome to join the FanFest and get revved up for an exciting weekend.
“We wanted to host an event to build some excitement for the race and give back to our fans in Ocala and from all over Florida,” said Hart. “My wife Brittanie has been doing an amazing job of pulling this event together. I want to thank all the drivers for participating and we are just trying to make this event bigger and better every year. We will be donating proceeds from the car show and 50/50 raffle to Racers For Christ so we would love to see a big crowd.”
With good weather in the forecast for the weekend the NHRA Gatornationals should also see record attendance. Getting to spend time with the fans has been a bonus for Hart as he steadily becomes more of a well-known name on the NHRA tour. The soft spoken but not shy driver is looking to start making a run for his first championship on Friday when qualifying begins in earnest.
“We had a good couple of days of testing and our R+L Carriers/TechNet dragster is ready to roll,” said Hart. “The Gatornationals is my home race track so we will have a lot of our team from Burnyzz Speed Shop at the race as well as more sponsors. It will be a busy weekend.”
The NHRA Gatornationals will feature two rounds of Top Fuel qualifying on Friday and two sessions on Saturday. During the qualifying sessions on Saturday Hart will also be competing in the Pep Boys All-Star Callout. The final round of the Callout will be contested on Saturday night with a winner-take-all $80,000 race that will not count towards qualifying position. Final eliminations will begin on Sunday, March 12 at 10 a.m. ET with FOX broadcasting the race nationally from noon-3:00 p.m. ET.