The R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster team and driver Josh Hart continued their steady improvement with a runner-up finish at the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals outside of Chicago. The Ocala, Florida-based team qualified No. 12 but defeated No. 5 qualifier Antron Brown, No. 13 qualifier Jacob McNeal, No. 16 qualifier TJ Zizzo before coming up a few hundredths of a second short to veteran Clay Millican in the final round. Tricky track conditions and warm weather bedeviled most of the teams on race day, but Hart and crew chief Ron Douglas were able to navigate the conditions and advance to their fifth career final round.
“We had a super tricky racetrack today,” said Hart, a two-time Top Fuel national event winner. “I am happy we are back in Chicago though. I really liked this place. It looks like a gladiator stadium. I’ve wanted to get back here badly for a long time and hopefully it’s back again next year.”
Through two days of qualifying Hart’s R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster was not its usual dominant self that has led the team to back-to-back final quads at the previous two four-wide national events. The team’s quickest pass of 3.770 seconds came on Saturday morning and they built off those numbers on race day. Hart had his hands full in the first round against three-time world champion Brown. Both dragsters smoked the tires, but Hart’s racecar was able to hang on long enough to give him the momentum to win.
“In qualifying, we were kind of hit or miss. We were just trying to figure the track out,” said Hart. “In the first round, you get out there and you’re way past the shake zone and that thing starts to move sideways. My job was just to get it to settle down and then hit the gas again and fortunately, we had enough momentum to get past Antron. It’s hard to even leave on somebody like that. And we did buy a little bit off the starting line.”
After the wild first round Hart made a solid pass to get around newcomer Jacob McNeal. Hart was first off the line and he never trailed in the drag race. Both drivers made clean runs and it was Hart advancing to the semifinals and clinching a spot in the upcoming Mission #2Fast2Tasty Challenge at the New England Nationals. In the semifinals once again, Hart had to wrestle his racecar to the finish line for a third win light.
“We go out there and I felt it drop a couple holes and starts chugging like you know, the Cannonball Express and you’re thinking ‘Oh, this is gonna hurt like the Cannonball Express is gonna smash pennies like it does on train rails.’ I was thinking this is going to hurt my wallet which it did it. We grenaded an engine but when you’re in eliminations, you just you got to do what you got to do,” said Hart.
Racing for his third career win Hart was looking to get a fourth win light against veteran Millican, another independent driver and friend. Both drivers left together and they were side by side for 1000 feet with Millican just getting the nose of his dragster out in front of Hart. The margin of victory was about a foot at over 320 mph.
“In the finals, we were just trying to get this thing down the racetrack,” said Hart. “The guys really went over and above. We put in a new engine, a new super-charger and a new clutch. We were doing stuff that we were way out of our comfort zone just to try to see if we could get it to go A to B. He had a .049 light and I had a .052 so we were right there. We lost by literally the skin of our teeth. I didn’t see him so that means I was just going to stay in it. Congratulations to Clay. He’s one of my favorite people out here. He’s always smiling. I like him a lot. So couldn’t happen to a better team.”
Hart will be back in action in two weeks at New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire. The third-year pro moved up to seventh in the Top Fuel point standings and he is three points out of sixth and three rounds from the top five.