Racing two races in one weekend had Josh Hart and the R+L Carriers Top Fuel team focused on performance and the overall fan experience. Last weekend the NHRA New England Nationals was postponed to the Thunder Valley Nationals setting up Hart and the rest of the Top Fuel field for a two race in three days schedule. On Friday night Hart wrapped up his New England Nationals race and turned his attention to winning his first Thunder Valley Nationals title. The final two qualifying sessions on Saturday set Hart up as the No. 12 qualifier and a first round race with No. 5 qualifier Mike Salinas.
Salinas’ quickest time of the weekend, a 3.762 second pass was a target that Hart and his crew chief Ron Douglas knew they could compete with on race day. When the Christmas Tree flashed Hart was first off the line with a starting line advantage of .053 to .113 and the two-time Top Fuel national event winner never trailed in the race. His R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster that also gets considerable support from TechNet crossed the finish line with a winning time of 3.793 second at 331.36 mph.
“This was a wild weekend. I felt bad for the fans in Epping when we were there last week,” said Hart. “I felt even worse for us having to run Epping here because it was just a lot for the NHRA Safety Safari and everybody involved. It was really well orchestrated and worked out nice running two races in one weekend. I just wish we gone in our favor a little bit more. The first round win was a nice boost for the team and the car was flawless on that run.”
After a nearly four hour rain delay before the second round Hart pulled up beside one of the toughest competitors in the class so far this season in Justin Ashley. The two team owners and drivers are both chasing their first championships and building teams that will compete against each other for years to come. Each of these drivers is recognized as one of the toughest drivers when it comes to reaction times and driving skills. The second round race did not disappoint the fans.
Both 12,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters left together and they were welded side-by-side the full 1,000-foot race track. Ashley was able to poke the nose of his Phillips Connect race car out in front as they approached the finish line and he held on for the win. The incremental times down the track reflected that it was one of the closest races of the day. At the finish line it was Ashley’s 3.756 second pass getting the win over Hart’s 3.780 second run.
“When you go up against Justin, you’re going to have to be on your game,” said Hart. “My lights have been consistently in the 50s and I’m usually faster than that, so I’m going take this one on the chin myself. I was focused. I could have been a little bit more razor sharp. And we could have performed with the car a little bit better. But ultimately, that was our best run of the weekend. I’m very proud of the team. The conditions were all over the board. And we were able to get down almost every run.”
Hart will head to the Norwalk Nationals in two weeks looking to close the deal at a track he raced to the final round last season. He will be bringing a new race car to the fan-friendly facility located outside Cleveland.
“It’s a new car. We’ve got a lot of new parts. We’re still learning stuff every time we come out here, so I’m very confident moving forward, we’ll just keep on truckin’ and get ready for Norwalk. That will be a big race for us,” said Hart.