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Matt Hartford chasing greatness by running opposite his Elite Motorsports teammate

Matt Hartford earned his first win in 2018, and he wants more in 2019 as he kicks off his first full tour at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals.
10 Feb 2019
Jacob Sundstrom, NHRA National Dragster Associate Editor
Race coverage
Matt Hartford

Matt Hartford believes he can beat Elite Motorsports by joining them. He leases engines from the Richard Freeman-owned outfit, but the similarities between his car and Jeg Coughlin Jr.’s machine end there. Not all team cars clone setups, they’re not all Stormtroopers, but they often behave in similar ways. 

Not so for the Total Seal-wrapped machine. 

“We’re not even close. We’re actually probably farther away from them than anybody,” said Hartford. “Even though we lease engines from them and, obviously, they can come into our trailer and we can go into our trailer — there is an open-door policy — we’re on an island by ourselves.” 

The logic follows the same philosophy that seemingly guides Hartford everywhere else. Safety is not guaranteed. In other words, make the play for the high ceiling, the floor be damned. 

“I had a conversation with [Elite Motorsports owner Richard Freeman] during testing, and he said, ‘why don’t you do x, y, and z,’ and I said, ‘because I can’t be faster than you if I’m the same as you.’ We’re not out here to be as good as you, we’re out here to be better. We’re going down a path that might be right, it might be wrong, but we’re trying to be better.”

That’s nothing new, really, based on previous conversations with Hartford. He will run the full 18-race schedule this year in part because it works with his full-time job at Total Seal and in part because he sees an opportunity to do some damage. The EFI-era of Pro Stock trended toward uber-competitive in 2018 and 2019, we all hope, will open the flood gates. 

“We feel that it’s going to be the most competitive year in recent years of Pro Stock,” said Hartford. “You’re going to have 16 cars out here every week that have a chance to win races and can just about qualify on the pole.”

Hartford qualified 10th, .038-second behind pole-sitter (and teammate) Rodger Brogdon. He gets to race Greg Anderson in the first round, which offers credence to his belief — while also suggesting how difficult it will be to make the Countdown to the Championship in 2019. 

“There are challenges. It’s a lot of time away for everyone, especially considering that everyone on my team has a full-time job,” said Hartford. “We’re still a part-time team no matter how you look at it. This isn’t our full-time job, and that’s a challenge. We don’t have 10 people working on our stuff 24/7, but at the end of the day, we just have to work harder when we are working, and we should be very competitive.”

Hartford smoked the tires in the first round in Pomona in 2018. He won’t be able to get away with that against Anderson, who got down the track three out of four times during qualifying. If Hartford can cut a good light, he’ll have a shot at getting into the second round at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com.