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Top Fueler Hart Closing In On NHRA’s Top Rookie Honor

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 29 2021

Josh Hart’s Top Fuel career is off to a fast start. (Photo courtesy of Elon Werner)

Josh Hart’s impressive on-track performance as an NHRA Top Fuel rookie has been complemented by an inspiring back-story featuring a legendary mentor.

A two-time national event winner this season, Hart is among 11 candidates vying for the 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year Award heading into this weekend’s Dodge//SRT NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hart’s racing career began at the urging of NHRA legend and fellow-Ocala, Fla., resident Don Garlits. “Big Daddy” encouraged Hart to race his 1999 Ford Lightning pick-up truck at the local drag strip instead of illegally on the street.

“I’ve been lucky to get to know and spend time with Don Garlits,” said Hart, 38, the founder of Josh Hart Racing. “We have worked together on his electric dragster project and he’s been influential as I’ve grown my business. I consider Don a mentor as well as a friend.”

Hart moved from local races to divisional events competing in Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Dragster and eventually A Fuel Dragster during a five-year stretch before graduating to Top Fuel this season. Hart won the first NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series event he entered in Top Fuel _ fittingly, the historic Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway _ and followed with a second victory during the Countdown to the Championship playoffs at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. Hart also logged four semifinal appearances in his first 10 races.

“I am living proof that anything is possible,” said Hart, a self-made businessman. “I came from a very poor background, basically living in a trailer park, and now I work in the most expensive ‘trailer park’ in the world. I feel like I have a very real rags-to-riches story. I had to work every day to make my dream come true. I made it happen with the love and support of my wife. I want to stay humble and be kind to other people.”

NHRA’s ROY honor will be decided by the vote of a panel of national motorsports media via the following criteria _ on-track performance; relationship with fans, media and sponsors; participation in NHRA promotions; number of events completed and driver’s potential as a future star of the sport. Ballots are due by Nov. 8, meaning this weekend’s event at Las Vegas is the final chance for each rookie to add to his/her resume. The season will end at Auto Club Speedway in Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 14.

The other ROY nominees, listed alphabetically, are Artie Allen (Top Fuel), Krista Baldwin (TF), Bobby Bode (Funny Car), Mike Callahan (Pro Stock), Dallas Glenn (PS), Chad Green (FC), Buddy Hull (TF), Joe Morrison (TF), Marty Robertson (PS) and Rob Tucker (PS).

Hart has qualified for all 11 NHRA national events he entered this season with a best starting position of fourth on the 16-car ladder. He has advanced to at least the semifinals at some of the schedule’s marquee events, including the Dodge//SRT U.S. Nationals near Indianapolis, the Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., and the FallNationals at Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Through the first four of seven Countdown races, Hart posted a win and two semifinal finishes, losing only to three-time/reigning world champion Steve Torrence.

In addition to his driving skills, Hart assembled his entire Top Fuel operation from scratch and continues to run the day-to-day operation. On Wednesday, Hart announced that crew chief Ron Douglas had been elevated to partner in Josh Hart Racing. Douglas will continue as crew chief for Hart into the 2022 season and beyond.

“Ron has proven himself to be a great crew chief and more importantly to be a great man of character,” Hart said. “We share the same demeanor and work ethic. I’m a loyal person and so is Ron. We want to build this race team for a long, successful future. I can’t think of a better person to build it with than a guy that has been there from the start.”

During his tenure with JHR Douglas has guided the team to a round-win record of 17-9. Douglas knows how to work with rookies, as he served as crew chief for NHRA Funny Car driver Ashley Force Hood during her Rookie of the Year run in 2007.

Hart started his first business with $300 and an unlimited supply of enthusiasm. Beginning with a mobile, door-to-door pro detailing business, Hart founded Burnyzz Speed Shop in 2010 _ opening the doors to what the Hart family now bills as “Hot Rod Heaven.” Hart currently services clients across the country and around the world from his Ocala headquarters.

Hart’s faith and giving heart have led him to support many of his fellow racers. Over the last five years Hart has donated all his contingency money to young racers in NHRA’s Sportsman categories and junior dragster ranks. 

“I know how expensive it is to participate in drag racing and motorsports,” Hart said. “I want to do what I can to keep the younger generations involved and off the streets. I was lucky Don Garlits pointed me in the right direction and I’m just paying it forward from there.”

Hart launched his rookie Top Fuel campaign on a limited schedule while he built his team and pursued a full-time primary sponsor. TechNet has supported Hart throughout the season, and he since has added sponsorship from R+L Carriers beginning at the NHRA Norwalk Nationals. R+L has stepped-up as primary sponsor for the seven Countdown races, with Hart attending meet-and-greets and customer events on behalf of both companies.

“R+L Carrier events are built around rewarding their current employees and thanking them for being great employees, which is why I love them so much,” Hart said. “It’s an excellent recruiting tool to find and introduce new talent to join the work force but it also is a big ‘thank you’ to their current employees. This is their first foray into motorsports and I’ve developed a strong personal and professional relationship with the R+L Carrier leadership team.”

Like Hart, Pro Stock ROY candidate Glenn has posted a pair of wins. Glenn advanced to the final round during the Midwest Nats at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., outside St. Louis, a month ago in search of his first Countdown win.

“To get a win in the Countdown would be something special and be a major confidence booster going into the off-season,” said Glenn, driver of a Chevrolet Camaro. “It would be a major boost to come through and succeed at the toughest moments of the season. The added pressure of the playoffs adds another level of enjoyment to all this, so we just want to keep pushing forward. I’ve learned how difficult it is to win the Countdown and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get.”

The Vegas event is the fifth of six Countdown races in Pro Stock (and Pro Stock Motorcycle), with Glenn in third, 183 points behind KB Racing teammate and point-leader Greg Anderson.

Catching Anderson admittedly will be difficult for Glenn, who has qualified for all 15 races he has entered this season. Anderson, who earned his 98th career victory at the FallNats in Texas to become the all-time wins leader in Factory Hot Rod history, is trying to hold off reigning world champ Erica Enders. Erica won her fourth world title in Vegas last year, but Anderson has an 81-point advantage in his latest bid to claim a fifth championship.

“I feel like I’m in a good spot to perform well at these next two races,” said Glenn, who has four finals appearances and a 23-13 W-L record thus far in 2021. “I feel like the car is the best it’s ever been. I just need to do my job and everything will work out. Overall, I feel pretty good about my first season. I had really high expectations because I know what I’m capable of, but it’s extremely difficult to win races in this class and especially in the Countdown. You have to be perfect in every aspect and everything has to fall into place on that particular weekend.”

Here are the remaining Rookie of the Year contenders:

Artie Allen, Top Fuel _ Has qualified for each of the five races he has entered, with a best starting position of 10th. His W-L record is 0-5; currently 19th in points.

Krista Baldwin, Top Fuel _ The granddaughter of Chris “The Greek” Karamesines and daughter of Bobby Baldwin has qualified for four of five races entered, with a best starting position of 14th. Her W-L record is 1-4; currently 17th in points.

Bobby Bode, Funny Car _ Has qualified for all seven races he has entered, with a best starting position of third. His W-L record is 1-6; currently 14th in points.

Mike Callahan, Pro Stock _Has failed to qualify for the four races he has entered, with two remaining. His highest qualifying position has been 19th; currently 29th in points.

Chad Green, Funny Car _ Has qualified for four of six races he has entered, with a best starting position of sixth. His W-L record is 0-4; currently 17th in points.

Buddy Hull, Top Fuel _ Has qualified for seven of 10 races he has entered, with a best starting position of eighth. His W-L record is 0-7; currently 13th in points.

Joe Morrison, Top Fuel _ Has qualified for all nine races he has entered, with a best starting position of 12th. His W-L record is 0-9; currently 12th in points.

Marty Robertson, Pro Stock _ Has qualified for two of three races entered, with a best starting position of 15th.  His W-L is 0-2; currently 26th in points.

Rob Tucker, Pro Stock _ Has qualified for one of five races entered, with a best starting position of 15th. His W-L record is 0-1; currently 17th in points.

Previously billed as the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award, past ROY winners have included inaugural recipient K.C. Spurlock (Funny Car, 1990); Kurt Johnson (Pro Stock, 1993); Larry Dixon (Top Fuel, 1995); Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock, 1998); Brandon Bernstein (Top Fuel, 2003); Robert Hight (Funny Car, 2005). Spencer Massey (Top Fuel, 2009); Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle, 2011); Courtney Force (Funny Car, 2012) and Cory Reed (Pro Stock Motorcycle, 2016).

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Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Angie Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) are defending winners of this weekend’s Countdown to the Championship race in Las Vegas. The event will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live final eliminations coverage starting at 5 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Angelle Sampey made a huge move at the most recent event at Bristol Dragway, winning her second race in the Countdown to pull within 25 points of leader Matt Smith with two races remaining. Sampey has hit her stride aboard the Vance & Hines Suzuki, moving into championship contention for her fourth world title.

Sampey has impressed throughout the playoffs, qualifying No. 1 at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa.; winning at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., and posting the victory down Bristol’s famed “Thunder Valley.” Sampey has won twice in Las Vegas during her career. However, her most recent win in the Nevada desert was in 2002.

Smith, meanwhile, is chasing his second straight title and fifth overall. But it’s more than a two-bike race, with veteran campaigner Steve Johnson still in contention at 56 points back of Smith and four-time world champ Eddie Krawiec of Vance & Hines 111 points out. Sampey, however, carries the momentum into the Speedway Motorsports facility located north of the Vegas Strip.

“Things are coming around and I’m trying really hard,” Sampey said. “This team has worked so hard and deserves all this success. These guys bring out the best in me, and they’re all wonderful coaches and teammates. It took me a while to trust the motorcycle. It wasn’t the motorcycle, it was all me. I’m just finally coming around on it and things have been going well. I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the year, but it sure would be nice to get that No. 1 back on the motorcycle.”

Team Capco’s Steve Torrence will take a 73-point lead over 2017 Top Fuel world champ Brittany Force of John Force Racing into Vegas, where Torrence will be working to secure a record-tying fourth straight title with the help of teammate/father Billy Torrence.

In Funny Car, 2016 world champion Ron Capps holds a one-point lead over Don Schumacher Racing teammate and three-time/reigning world champ Matt Hagan in a battle of Dodge Charger Hellcats. Hagan won this race to clinch the title one year ago.

NHRA  qualifying will open with one round at 3 p.m. (PDT) on Friday, with the final two rounds of time trials on Saturday. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. (PDT) on Sunday.

Television coverage on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) includes qualifying from 7-8 p.m. (EDT) on Friday and 4-5 p.m. on Sunday, with live action during eliminations to follow from 5-8 p.m. (EDT).

Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Countdown to the Championship point standings (top-10) following the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence, 2,575; 2. Brittany Force, 2,502; 3. Justin Ashley, 2,428; 4. Mike Salinas, 2,425; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,357; 6. Leah Pruett, 2,291; 7. Clay Millican, 2,265; 8. Antron Brown, 2,252; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,228; 10. Doug Kalitta, 2,180.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, 2,490; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,489; 3. J.R. Todd, 2,407; 4. (tie) John Force, 2,389; Cruz Pedregon, 2,389; 6. Bob Tasca III, 2,343; 7. Robert Hight, 2,337; 8. Alexis DeJoria, 2,319; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,249; 10. Blake Alexander, 2,184.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, 2,520; 2. Erica Enders, 2,439; 3. Dallas Glenn, 2,337; 4. Kyle Koretsky, 2,334; 5. Aaron Stanfield, 2,304; 6. Chris McGaha, 2,278; 7. Troy Coughlin Jr., 2,274; 8. Mason McGaha, 2,224; 9. Matt Hartford, 2,214; 10. Deric Kramer, 2,178.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, 2,451; 2. Angelle Sampey, 2,426; 3. Steve Johnson, 2,395; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,340; 5. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,291; 6. Karen Stoffer, 2,250; 7. Joey Gladstone, 2,235; 8. Angie Smith, 2,225; 9. Andrew Hines, 2,177; 10. Ryan Oehler, 2,150.

Pro Modified _ 1. Jose Gonzalez, 838; 2. Brandon Snider, 658; 3. Steve Jackson, 643; 4. Justin Bond, 641; 5. JR Gray, 495; 6. Jeffery Barker, 411; 7. Doug Winters, 398; 8. Mike Castellana, 376; 9. Khalid alBalooshi, 368; 10. Lyle Barnett, 360.

UPDATED 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Mile Salinas (Top Fuel); Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 29 2021
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