At the conclusion of an epic weekend at Sonoma Raceway Josh Hart and the R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster team will return home with a positive attitude and a championship caliber race team. From Friday through today Hart’s team made seven progressively stronger runs as they raced to the semifinals today at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. They started the day as the No. 4 qualifier and defeated former world champions Tony Schumacher and Shawn Langdon in the opening two rounds before losing the closest race of the day in Top Fuel to points leader Justin Ashley. Hart, who is sitting No. 9 in the Top Fuel point standings, closed the gap considerably on the drivers in fifth through eighth.
“After this weekend there are a million positives,” said Hart. “We don’t get down and out when stuff like this happens. We have been struggling, so when it starts to gel together again it reminds you why in the heck you do this. I knew I had to bring my A game all day. I’ve been practicing a lot of stuff. I’ve been accused of guessing at the lights. I had to prove today that I’m not guessing at anything. I just had to get comfortable again. My crew chief Ron Douglas gave me a bracket car. You know, unfortunately, we got beat. It was a great race. But I think what it taught us more than anything is we have all the right components to go after a championship.”
After his strong qualifying performance Hart was saddled with one of the toughest opponents in the history of the class, eight-time world champion Schumacher. The task of racing the winningest Top Fuel driver did not give Hart a second of pause as he powered his R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster off the line first by a dramatic advantage securing the win on the strength of his .045 second reaction time. Hart’s skill off the line allowed his 3.779 second pass got to the finish line first ahead of Schumacher’s quicker 3.748 second run. At the top end after his first win light of the day Hart talked about how this R+L Carriers team works as one cohesive unit.
“We all have our jobs here and I have to do my part,” said Hart. “I have been focusing hard on staging shallow and cutting a good light. I am a very small piece of this operation and my R+L Carriers crew guys make the magic happen. They will get it tuned up for the second round and Ron Douglas always comes through. I am very confident in this program.”
Facing another tough opponent in the quarterfinals Hart was ready to make another run to the semifinals by taking out Shawn Langdon. In what is quickly becoming a normal occurrence Hart cut a .026 second reaction time, best of the day in Top Fuel, to get his R+L Carrier Top Fuel dragster out in front and it never trailed in the race. Langdon’s Kalitta Air dragster hazed the tires at half-track while Hart’s Ron Douglas tuned 11,000 horsepower dragster was making another smooth pass at 3.793 seconds and 330.47 mph. That was Hart’s sixth consecutive smooth pass at Sonoma Raceway including four solid qualifying runs.
“The guys always give me a really good race car and we have been dealing with some clutch management issues,” said Hart. “I think they found what we were looking for. This R+L Carriers team is strong. We are strong in faith and strong in performance. We take a lot of pride in our people. Thanks to all the fans. We are trying to put on a great show for y’all all weekend. On to the next round.”
The semifinal was a battle between two of the best drivers on the starting line and two championship contending teams. Hart was again masterful off the line with a another near psychic reaction time of .035 seconds to get the jump off the line. That was almost enough to propel him to the final round but at the finish line by eight thousandths of a second Ashley was able to poke the nose of his Top Fuel dragster out in front. Hart’s 3.793 second run at 327.43 mph was not enough for the win against Ashley’s 3.768 second, 329.10 mph pass. It was a race decided by less than four feet at the finish line.
“I’m extremely excited for every race,” said Hart. “I try not to get too over presumptuous when it comes to that kind of stuff. We’re not where I want to be by any means. We will get there and we’ll find our way back to the top where we belong. With Ron and everybody at the at the helm. I have all the confidence in the world. I like this car. I love my team. It’s gonna be fine.”