Backstory: What drives Top Fuel's Josh Hart?
Josh Hart wasn't treading lightly when he made his NHRA Top Fuel debut two years ago, and his intensity certainly didn't wane over his sophomore season. In 2022 — his first full schedule as a nitro pilot and team owner — Hart finished in the top 10 with a handful of final-round appearances added to a scorecard that already included a pair of victories. When the events of Hart's pre-nitro life are brought into perspective, his assertive stance makes a lot of sense.
"When I started telling people I wanted to drag race, a lot of them didn't think it was possible at all," said Hart. "I wasn't a second-generation drag racer, I didn't have financial support from anyone. It was literally a dream. In the beginning, there were people making fun of me — and literally laughing — when I said I was going to drive a Top Fuel car.
"But you start your drag racing career and work your way through the ranks, busting your tail to get from A to B, and one day you realize you're driving a Top Fuel dragster. When I got my license, I dedicated that time slip to the ones who made fun of me. That's the kind of stuff that drives me."
Prior to his position behind the wheel of the R+L Carriers Top Fuel dragster, the Ocala, Fla.-based businessman was a beast in the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks. He claimed three wins in seven final rounds as an alcohol campaigner — including impressive back-to-back victories at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis — so when he graduated to nitro in 2021, Hart already knew how to win.
But the story really begins before then. Hart's initial trajectory towards Top Fuel began after he'd been in some trouble on the streets with his daily driver. A family friend approached him and, fatefully, suggested taking his lead foot to the dragstrip. Gainesville Raceway was not far from his home, and so Hart and his Ford Lightning pickup truck arrived at a test-and-tune one night to see what it was all about.
"I've followed the speed limit on the street ever since," said Hart.
His career was anointed early when he crossed paths with one of drag racing's most dominant legends, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits at Gainesville Raceway. The fellow Floridian has a shop not more than seven miles from Hart's own, and after making the connection, Hart went over to check out Big Daddy's place. They were soon working on projects together, including the development of an electric dragster, and they formed a friendship. The experience only encouraged Hart's progress in NHRA drag racing, and he powered ahead through Super Gas, Super Comp, then Top Dragster, Top Alcohol Dragster, and finally, Top Fuel.
Nothing could have prepared him for the feeling of driving a 330+ mph Top Fuel dragster, however.
"The first time I hit the gas in a Top Fuel car, I thought my neck was a hyper-extended slinky, and this is after I probably had 400 passes in my alcohol car. There is nothing like it," he said. "It's a night and day difference. It's quite different from the A/Fuel car, at least how mine was set up, but I was able to get comfortable relatively quickly."
In addition to his own comfort, Hart's team, led by crew chief and racing partner Ron Douglas, found their groove quickly.
"Ron Douglas is the most understated crew chief in drag racing," said Hart. "Stepping back and looking at how the crew handles themselves throughout any weekend, they're magicians. They really are, and they deserve all the credit. A lot of people don't understand that – you only hear about the driver.
"But with the confidence of Ron Douglas and this team behind me, I realized I didn't have to worry about anything other than driving and making sure I can pay the bills. That's how we operated from the beginning, and that's what led to where we are today."
Hart has been an entrepreneur and business man for two decades, building businesses with wife Brittanie from the ground up, and that experience helped smooth the transition into owning a professional race team where funding, crew requirements, media responsibilities, and so much more come into play.
"I've never worked for anybody else," explained Hart, who grew the Burnyzz brand from a simple detailing service to a new and classic car restoration and speed shop. "My wife and I literally started with nothing, I mean nothing – no wealthy parents, no financial investors. We went door-to-door cleaning cars, then she took over the detailing side of things, and I started doing super chargers. It's truly a rags-to-riches story, and it hasn't stopped. We bust our butts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, and that's an understatement.
"[In business], I have to fully absorb and respond to challenges daily. Nothing shocks me anymore because I've been around the block – you get used to pressure and high stress situations through hands-on experience. I'm not against anyone being born into this or having great opportunities, but when I look around at what we've built, it's breathtaking. It makes you want to keep going."
Hart's experience also helped him understand how to speak to business owners and explain the value of NHRA and his Top Fuel program. Ahead of the 2022 season, R+L Carriers announced a full season of support for Hart and his team, and that will continue in 2023. The team also recently signed a multi-year deal with Advance Auto Parts, an entity that has supported Hart's drag racing endeavors since he raced Super Comp.
The continued and strengthening partnerships complement a strong team that Hart envisions as continue to grow together. Always reaching for more, Hart recognizing the struggles in 2022 but is proud of how far his team has already come.
"This year was the definition of a 'sophomore slump.' We had a consistent car, it just seemed like it wasn't enough," he said. "It wasn't one thing, it was everything; I couldn't get comfortable in the car, and we had a couple of mechanical issues that really set us back. But my expectation is that next year, we're going to continue to get stronger. We'll strengthen our inventory and continue to invest in NHRA, and we really want to put on an awesome show for the fans.
"This is my story, and I think everybody has one. My goal is to prove that no matter where you came from or what hurdles you have in your life, anything really is possible. If you want to do this, you can. You just have to put your nose to the grindstone and keep working."