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Josh Hart Opens Season with Gatornationals Quarterfinals Finish

The NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series is a marathon not a sprint and Ocala, Florida-based driver and team owner Josh Hart is ready for a long run. The driver of the R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster built on his testing sessions in the off-season and came into the NHRA Gatornationals looking to add another Wally to his collection. The 2021 Gatornationals winner and 2023 Pep Boys Allstar Callout winner made strong passes on Friday and Saturday to qualify in the 16-dragster field.
 
The class will be exceedingly tough with just about every competitor owning national event wins or world championships. Hart was the No. 12 qualifier and he was paired up with 8-time Top Fuel world champion Tony Schumacher in the first round. Hart was looking to avenge a tough first round loss to Schumacher in 2023. When the cars pulled up to the starting line Hart felt confident and ready to get his first win light of 2024. He grabbed a significant starting line advantage and never trailed in the race posting time of 3.750 seconds at 329.26 mph, nearly equaling his quickest run of qualifying.

“We made big strides this weekend with the R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster,” said Hart, a multi-time Top Fuel national event winner. “We started changing our program at the end of last year to get more in line with the rest of the class. They have probably 80 runs and we just passed 20 passes. We will get there. I am not worried.”
 
In the second round Hart drew No. 4 qualifier and 2024 Pep Boys Allstar Callout winner Antron Brown. Once again Hart was first off the starting line but his advantage disappeared when his Goodyear slicks overpowered the warming track surface as his 12,000-horsepowered Top Fuel dragster accelerated past the Christmas Tree. Hart’s time of 3.866 seconds was a valiant effort to muscle his race car to the finish line against Brown’s 3.730 second run.
 
“This weekend had a lot of positives,” said Hart. “In the first round that was a textbook run. It was perfectly straight and quick. The sun came out just before the second round and I had my hands full on that pass. I wasn’t going to give up. I feel like we are starting this season on the right foot and I am ready to get to the NHRA Winternationals.”
 
The championship contending team will be making a sponsor appearance for primary backer R+L Carriers before getting ready to head west for the NHRA Winternationals at In-N-Out Drag Strip at Pomona, March 21-24. Hart will head to California sitting No. 8 in the Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.

This story was originally published on March 11, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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