It didn’t take long to settle the debate over who would be NHRA’s next first-time pro winner after Josh Hart drove to a win at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals in his Top Fuel debut. 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 where he defeated Shawn Langdon in the final round. Hart, a native of Ocala, Fla., joined a short list of drivers who have won in their professional debut, and become the first driver to accomplish the feat in Top Fuel since the late Darrell Russell in 2001.
Hart was consistently in the 3.8-second zone throughout eliminations including a 3.826 in the final after Langdon’s DHL dragster knocked the tires loose and slowed to a 4.244. Not surprisingly, Hart was nearly speechless as he was handed the first Top Fuel Wally of the 2021 Camping World NHRA Drag Racing Season.
“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, crew chief] gave me an amazing car. It was a monster going down the track.”
Hart’s big break came in the semifinals where reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley had troubles with his Mike Green-tuned entry and never left the starting line. Ashley struggled to do a burnout and set off the supercharger oiling system before he was able to stage. Hart was not the least bit distracted and powered to a 3.811 to earn lane choice for his first professional final. Earlier, Hart defeated Clay Millican, and then advanced after three-time world champion Steve Torrence smoked the tires.
Langdon won the U.S. Nationals and also went to the semifinals in Dallas during the abbreviated 2020 season, but a slow start prevented him from contending for a second Top Fuel world championship. Langdon, who also has a pair of Super Comp championships to his credit, won’t have that problem this season after driving his Kalitta Motorsports/DHL dragster to a runner-up finish in Gainesville.
Langdon was solid in the early rounds with runs of 3.75 and 3.76 in his wins against Doug Foley and Leah Pruett. He also topped Antron Brown’s Matco Tools dragster in the semifinals with a 3.821 after Brown smoked the tires.