When the 2021 season kicked off in Gainesville, few people expected a young rookie by the name of Josh Hart to make a big splash in his NHRA Top Fuel debut. The historic Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway provided a great stage for Josh to introduce himself while also having the comforts of home (Ocala) nearby.
“It’s going to be pretty surreal,” said Hart. “I never thought I was going to be here. You hear all the rumors about money, sponsors… for the stars to align enough for me to be able to do this, it’s an honor.”
After turning a few heads in qualifying, Hart landed on the 8th rung of the ladder and never looked back. Defeating series veterans like Clay Millican and Steve Torrence in the first two rounds showed the home crowd that Josh Hart was there to win and additional heads began to turn.
Another young gun, Justin Ashley was matched up with Hart in the semi's but failed to make a run, moving Hart into the final against Shawn Langdon. While the stage was set, the odds were against Josh Hart as he was battling both Langdon and a statistic that had held for almost 2 decades. Darrell Russell was the last Top Fuel Driver to win his first race in his first attempt back in 2001.
Hart led from the start and never trailed to earn his first NHRA Top Fuel Wally. “Never in a million years would I have thought this was going to happen,” said Hart. “I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time. Ron Douglas gave me an amazing car. It was a monster going down the track.”
Where did this performance come from? Even with Hart claiming he would not have expected this in a million years, he said it with the confidence knowing he was was capable of it. Hart is a two-time U.S. Nationals Top Alcohol Dragster champion so he knows a thing or two about performing on a big stage, but nothing he’s done to this point in his career could ever compare to his debut in Gainesville and the victory to wrap up the event.
Since Gainesville, Hart has raced in 5 additional events including Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston and Norwalk including another trip to the final in Charlotte at the 4-wides. By the time Hart gets back on track in Indy, it will have been more than 2 months since he has fired up the nitro in competition.
I recently caught up with Josh and he spoke about needing to make some tough business decisions and miss a few events but he his prepared and ready to race through the end of the season. It was during that conversation that I was able to gain additional respect for Josh as a car owner and a businessman along with being a very talented wheelman.
As we discussed his plans for the rest of the season, it was clear how important his partners are to him and his desires to represent them both on and off the track. Josh spoke of the changing landscape in Motorsports and the appreciation he has for each of his partners. Among the many are R+L Carriers, TechNet Professional Automotive Service and BuyMetalBuildingsDirect.com. As in Gainesville, you may also see Hart's own Burnyzz Speed Shop prominently displayed on his "fire breathing beast" Top Fuel Dragster.
As we talked further, Josh continued to display a calming confidence without the slightest hint of arrogance. By the time we were finished, I had spoken to the husband of Brittanie, the father of Helen, a great businessman, a race team owner, a car driver and someone that anyone would be proud to stand with. Two of those people that have stood with Josh are his adoptive family, Helen and Dennis Hendershot, who he credits for where and who he is today.
Something tells me that when the U.S. Nationals come to a close on September 5th, Josh Hart may very well be standing with his second career Top Fuel Wally. After all, Anything's Possible!
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Photo's courtesy of NHRA / Josh Hart