Huntington native and racecar driver Josh Hart has made a big splash in the professional racing world, debuting in his Top Fuel racing career at the Amalie Motor Oil National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Gatornationals race that took place from Thursday, March 11, through Sunday, March 14, at the Gainseville Raceway in Gainseville, FL.
Even more importantly, Hart won his debut event, marking him as the fourth racer in NHRA history to do such a thing.
“It was my first time competing at this level, and we were honestly just hoping to qualify well and compete. . . and we won the event!” Hart said.
The first racer in NHRA history to win their maiden voyage was K. C. Spurlock, who won the 1990 Winternationals at Pomona, CA. Spurlock was followed by Gary Scelzi in 1997 and Darrel Russel in 2001.
Top Fuel is the highest level of racing that a drag racing competitor can reach. Before his debut, Hart competed as a Top Alcohol drag racer and was a two-time U.S. Nationals champion at the Top Alcohol level.
The Top Fuel Gatornationals race features a single-elimination ladder. According to Autoweek, a traditional drag strip is 1,320 feet, which equals out to a quarter-mile in length. However, Top Fuel classes have competed on a 1,000-foot-long track since the middle of 2008.
Hart started out the competition by facing off in the E1 round against Clay Millican, a six-time International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) champion. With just 1.44 seconds of a difference, Hart beat Millican by running a time of 4.529 and advanced to the E2 round. In that round, Hart faced Steve Torrence, coming out with a time of 3.838, just a little over half a second faster than Torrence, who raced a 4.521.
Round E3 saw Hart face 2020 NHRA Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley. Ashley, experiencing troubles with his vehicle, never left the starting line. Since Ashley did not record a time for the race, Hart was free to face 2013 Top Fuel Champion Shawn Langdon in the final E4 round.
In his final round, Hart managed to run a 3.826 pass, .418 of a second faster than Langdon.
Hart credits much of his success to the crew in charge of his vehicle, including Crew Chief Ron Douglas.
Hart plans to “travel all over the U.S. this year” now that the entertainment industry is opening back up and races are being scheduled. His next race is slated to take place in Atlanta in April.