Ocala, Florida resident and Top Fuel standout driver Josh Hart drove his R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster to Pep Boys Top Fuel Allstar Callout victory and an $80,000 payday on Saturday at Gainesville Raceway. It was Hart’s first appearance in a big money specialty race and the 2021 Gatornationals winner took out Austin Prock, Brittany Force and Mike Salinas enroute to the win to start the 2023 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.
“It’s a huge, huge accomplishment for our team, we have prepared like no other through December, January and February,” said Hart, in the Norm Froscher media center. “To go right out and win a specialty race right off the trailer is awesome. This R+L Carriers crew are the ones that should be sitting in the seat talking about this win. I’m just the jockey that gets to hit the gas. All the credit goes to the team. This is obviously off the charts awesome. But you have to not take anything like this for granted because it can go away just like that. Savor the moment.”
“I’ll just say that nice guys don’t finish last,” said Hart, a two-time Top Fuel national event winner. “When you go up against Prock, you gotta be deadly on the tree and I was off my game a little bit in that first round. It was my first competitive pass with this R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster. I was kind of nervous about staging. (Crew chief) Ron Douglas and the team saved me on that one.”
“In round two against Force when she called me out, I think everybody was expecting that. That becomes a kill them with kindness type of situation. I left on her with a 40 light. With Salinas you know, he’s run some crazy numbers in testing and you always have that in the back of your mind, but I’m just glad that left on him. Ron and team again get the credit.”
With the Gatornationals looming tomorrow, Hart, the No. 7 qualifier, will face eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher in the first round. The third-year professional has a 1-1 record against the five-time Gatornationals Top Fuel winner. Last year during the NHRA Countdown Hart outran Schumacher at the betway Nationals in Charlotte in the first round. Heading into race day Hart does not feel additional pressure to win his second Gatornationals.
“No pressure, but I am 100% more relaxed because again, once you have the confidence and you’ve taken your sled down the track a couple of times you’re like, ‘I got this,’” said Hart. “It’s when things are going sideways and crazy and you’re pedaling and then you start psyching yourself out. So those guys on my team, they’re awesome. Like I said, they were the ones that should be sitting right here, not me.”
Race week started on Wednesday night for Hart and his R+L Carriers and Burnyzz Speed Shop team as he hosted the first Gatornationals FanFest at his shop in Ocala, Florida, sixty minutes from Gainesville Raceway. Nearly two dozen NHRA competitors joined Hart and NHRA legend ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits for a free autograph session along with a huge car show and live music. An estimated 5,000-7,000 fans attended the first time event. The support Hart has received from his local community has not been lost on the Huntington, Indiana, transplant.
“Ocala has been amazing to me not just from the business support, but with the racing community,” said Hart, who started his first business with $300 and a dream. “We planned on having 75 people in our hospitality and this is our first time doing hospitality and I counted 200 plus. The local support is off the charts. I’ve never seen anything like not only here at the racetrack but people that are now stopping into the shop just for merchandise or just to you know, meet me and I’m like, man, I’m a janitor if you want me to clean up the messes around here. Just awesome support locally.”
The first round of eliminations will begin tomorrow at 10 a.m. ET and Hart will have his R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster ready to take on one of the toughest fields in Gatornationals history. The sixteen qualified drivers are members of multi-car, multi-million dollar operations. Hart has fastidiously built his racing operation on his own until last year when he brought on partner fellow Floridian Chris Armstrong. The influx of financial support and business acumen has helped Hart take his program to the next level.
“We partnered with Chris Armstrong of Armstrong Homes and this car does not want for anything. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this thing is equivalent to all the multi-million dollar teams. The confidence comes from what happened to me last year. I took it for granted and I was like ‘Hey, I’m gonna come out and have some fun,’ but it’s not fun. It’s a business, so this year, when I show up, I want to start trying to enjoy every single moment.”
Pep Boys Top Fuel Allstar Callout Results
Josh Hart (.084) 3.765, 331.77 mph def. Austin Prock (.063) 4.564, 164.89 mph
Brittany Force (.049) 3.744, 335.48 mph def. Clay Millican (.067) 5.247, 128.69 mph
Mike Salinas (.074) 3.751, 333.41 mph def. Justin Ashley (.033) 3.870, 299.06 mph
Doug Kalitta (.073) 3.753, 330.88 mph def. Steve Torrence (.099) 3.774, 331.28 mph
Mike Salinas (.068) 3.763, 330.63 mph def. Doug Kalitta (.072) 7.924, 101.35 mph
Josh Hart (.041) 3.757, 330.88 mph def. Brittany Force (.075) 8.884, 74.07 mph
Josh Hart (.052) 3.748, 33`1.53 mph def. Mike Salinas (.077) 10.235, 74.57 mph