The NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway could be just the race and race track Josh Hart and the R+L Carriers team is looking for to accelerate their pursuit of their first NHRA Camping World Top Fuel world championship. Hart will be making his third appearance at the state-of-the-art multi-use facility located just across the river from downtown St. Louis. His previous two races saw the entrepreneur from Ocala, Florida, race to a semifinal and runner-up finish in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
“We have had some good races at St. Louis and if I can just avoid Steve Torrence, I feel like we could be a great shape this weekend,” joked Hart, about the only driver to have defeated him at the Midwest Nationals. “Two years ago we made a good run from the No. 10 spot and last year we qualified No. 2 and raced all the way to the final just like it says on paper. This year I want that fourth win light on Sunday.”
The Countdown has not been kind to Hart and the R+L Carriers team as two first round exits have seen the two-time Top Fuel national event winner slip to twelfth place, but with four races left in the playoffs and a reshuffling of the points leaders, the field is tightening up. Hart started the Countdown 121 points out of first and now after two races he has slipped to 218 points back. With two Countdown race wins, new point leader Doug Kalitta made up a 75-point deficit on the point leader to start the Countdown and now has a 63-point lead of the No. 2 driver, for a net improvement of 138 points. A strong move by Hart in St. Louis could easily propel him back into the mix with three races remaining including the season finale in Pomona with points and a half on the line.
“We have definitely made our road to the championship a lot harder with these past two races but there is no one giving up over here in the R+L Carriers pit,” said Hart. “I know I might sound like a broken record but ‘Anything’s Possible’ is a saying I truly believe in. I take my hat off to Doug and his team. They struggled for two years and now have two wins in a row and some momentum. There is no reason my team with our talent can’t do the same thing.”
The competition level in the Top Fuel ranks has been the talk of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series all season. Hart started the year with the Pep Boys Allstar Callout win followed with a runner-up finish in Chicago. Justin Ashley has a category leading six race wins and Mike Salinas just joined the Phillips Connect First to 300 mph at the 1/8 Mile Club at the Carolina Nationals. There are four multi-time Top Fuel world champions in the mix as well as first time championship hopefuls Hart, Clay Millican, Austin Prock and Leah Pruett. The strength of the field could play into Hart’s advantage as he is trying to reel in the leaders.
“There just a little under 600 points left to win over these next four races when you look at qualifying bonus points, qualifying position points and round wins,” said Hart. “We need the teams in the bottom half of the top ten to start gobbling up those points and close the gap on the leaders. I want to head into Pomona with 10 teams within 60 points of each other for the championship. It is possible, and if that happens as long as we are one of those 10 teams, we have a shot at the world championship. Will it be easy? Absolutely not, but don’t count me out.”
Hart has a lifetime of experience in overcoming adversity riding with him to get to this point. He and his wife Brittanie started their first business with $300 in their bank account. The couple now own and operate multiple businesses with almost 100 employees in Ocala, Florida. Hart recently went back to his hometown of Huntington, Indiana, where he had a tough start growing up to donate funds to a local park for children with special needs as well as the local Police Athletic League football program. Giving back through philanthropy is something Hart has done throughout his personal and professional career.
“I try and boost people up whenever I can, whether it is a donation to a cause or a sponsorship for a junior dragster driver,” said Hart. “I have been very blessed and I don’t ever want to take that for granted. I didn’t get here by myself, and I want to encourage people to follow their dreams and work hard to achieve them like Brittanie and I did. We are a family-owned team, and I don’t want to lose sight of that. St. Louis will be an important race for us but there are three more after that. Until the math doesn’t add up in our favor we are going to keep believing.”
Hart and the R+L Carriers Top Fuel team that also has a shop full of supporters from Burnyzz Speed Shop in their corner will make their first qualifying run Friday night at 7:00 p.m. They will make two more qualifying runs Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Final eliminations will start on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. with FS1 broadcasting the race nationally.