Josh Hart is the first to admit his 2022 season didn’t go as planned. After winning two races in 13 appearances during his NHRA Top Fuel rookie season in 2021, Hart was primed for his first full season. Despite doubling his chances, the independent driver/owner went winless in two final-round appearances in 2022. With his “sophomore slump” behind him, Hart is ready to apply what he’s learned toward a new season with his Ron Douglas-led R+L Carriers team.
“I would say that my first year in Top Fuel was pretty much storybook,” Hart says looking back on the 2021 season. “It went great, I won a couple races, and I had a lot of fun. Going into 2022, I would’ve told you that I could drive the car easier than I could walk. At the end of my sophomore slump, I would say this year I learned how to walk. It was rough and grueling. It just really helped me develop an appreciation for the people that have been doing it for so long, like John Force, who literally started at the same place I’m starting, which is from nothing.”
Hart launched his automotive business, Burnyzz, in 2010 and has since used drag racing to build the brand and develop partnerships. He spent several seasons in Top Alcohol Dragster, winning the prestigious U.S. Nationals twice in his A/Fuel dragster.
Upon moving to Top Fuel in 2021, Hart quickly realized that Top Fuel is a different animal than A/Fuel. Not just the driving aspect, but also the team management side of things. That all escalated again when Hart ran his first full season in 2022.
“You have to learn all this stuff and learn the political side of it if you’re going to be an owner,” Hart says. “Obviously, the financial side of it was stressful. About midseason, you get fatigued, and it’s not just your finances. You’re fatigued and your team’s fatigued. You learn a lot of personalities. I learned a ton. You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Hart is a part of the recent movement towards independent team ownership in the NHRA nitro classes. He says it’s good for NHRA to have independent teams step up and compete against the previously dominant “super teams.”
He’s also excited about the rising stars who are showing out in the class, further elevating the competition level.
“The competition with Justin Ashley and Austin Prock and some of the new young blood coming out and cutting amazing lights is amazing,” Hart says. “You better be on your game. Otherwise, you don’t need to be here. It’s a crazy new level of NHRA drag racing.”
That level of competition is one of the factors that draws Hart to NHRA Top Fuel racing.
“I used to follow NASCAR, but it’s very hard to follow now,” Hart says. “Drag racing is not that, and I don’t think it will ever be that. That’s why I love it. There’s no participation awards. It’s straight-up you get to the line first, you win.”
The grassroots environment that drag racing offers is another selling point for Hart. In fact, it’s one way he’s brought in new sponsors to his program over the years. Those include longtime partner Advance Auto Parts and their TechNet Professional Automotive Services brand, as well as R+L Carriers, which uses their partnership to recruit new truck drivers and employees. Both companies will be back with Hart for the 2023 season.
“There’s no extracurricular pass to get to us,” Hart says of the fan interaction in drag racing. “I enjoy standing at the ropes talking to the fans and learning what I can do better as a representative or partner of NHRA.
“Overall, I would say the NHRA experience – the nitro, the sound, the feel – you can’t mess with it,” Hart continues. “That’s what I think is more attractive for sponsors. You can’t do that in other places, and you’re going to pay 3-5 times more money to be involved in those things than you would in NHRA.”
With steady support, a well-versed crew, and a new perspective, Hart is rolling into the 2023 season with the chance to repeat his 2021 win at his home race, the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. Like in his rookie season, the Gatornationals will serve as the start of the 2023 NHRA Camping World Series season.
“It’s always my favorite race,” says Hart, who’s planning a pre-race open house and fan fest at his Burnyzz Speed Shop in nearby Ocala. “Gainesville is where I got my first license and made my first pass down the dragstrip. I love that place. It’s been very good to me, obviously. Super excited to start the season there.”