It has been too long in Josh Hart’s opinion since his team parked the R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster in the winner’s circle. The third-year pro from Ocala, Florida, started the season winning the biggest payday of the year taking home the Pep Boys Top Fuel Allstar Callout, top prize at the Gatornationals across the country from Pacific Raceway. Since that weekend Hart has raced to a runner-up finish at the Gerber Collision & Glass Rt. 66 Nationals in Chicago. This weekend Hart and his team are looking to connect the figurative dots, winning at the furthest point from his home base.
“This Western Swing is a monster and getting our team to the Northwest Nationals is no easy task,” said Hart, who has two Top Fuel national event wins to his credit. “I have a great team led by crew chief Ron Douglas and assistant crew chief Dave Gaterell. Those two guys have a plan for the Western Swing and we made some strides in Denver and I think we will make another move in Seattle. This three-race stretch is a great proving ground for the Countdown.”
Last year in his first Northwest Nationals Hart powered the R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster to the No. 8 spot on the qualifying sheet and then raced to the quarterfinals. He beat the most recent winner Clay Millican in the first round and then dropped a close race to eventual 2022 world champion Brittany Force in the second round. Last weekend Hart bowed out in the quarterfinals at the Mile High Nationals starting from the No. 10 spot. He upset Leah Pruett in the first round with a stellar reaction time sealing the win and then he lost a coin-flip race to Doug Kalitta in the second round.
“There are no easy rounds anymore,” said Hart. “You have to be at the very top of your game when you pull up to the starting line. I have been working on my reaction times and my starting line procedure. Every little thing you do in the car affects the elapsed time. If you don’t pull up to the water box with a winning attitude you might as well hand the win to your opponent. Every single team that will be racing in Seattle has a legitimate shot at winning the race.”
This season has seen some of the closest Top Fuel racing action and toughest competition in recent memory. Since Hart made the jump from a successful Top Alcohol Dragster career to Top Fuel the level of performance from the teams and drivers has made a dramatic leap forward. Young drivers have stepped up their game and returning champions have continued to put pressure on everyone. The influx of quality part-time competitors has also made earning round wins a tough business for all the teams. Hart has completely rebuilt his operation since his rookie season of part-time competition thanks to his partnership with Chris Armstrong.
“Adding Chris to the mix has given us some buying power we didn’t have during my rooky season,” said Hart. “We are still an independent team, but we have the financial foundation thanks to our R+L Carriers and TechNet sponsorships and Chris’ support to compete at the highest level. We are keeping an eye on our budget but when we need to get parts or add pieces, we can do that. These race cars chew up money almost as fast as they go through nitromethane fuel.”
Hart will open the race weekend as one of the featured stars at the Northwest Nationals FanFest on Thursday night, July 20, at Dave & Busters in Auburn, Washington. The track is hosting a free fan event with Hart and a handful of NHRA competitors meeting fans and signing autographs at the free event from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
“I love participating in the FanFests before a race,” said Hart. “Our fans are very passionate and as a young team I think they like to see new faces. We host a huge car show and driver autograph session at Burnyzz Speed Shop, my main business, before the Gatornationals and it is a blast. I am looking forward to meeting the fans, taking some pictures, and signing autographs. On Friday we will get down to business.”
The Northwest Nationals will get underway with one qualifying session on Friday, July 21, followed by two sessions on Saturday, July 22. Final eliminations will begin at 10:30 a.m. PT with the race being broadcast nationally on FOX.