Published by: Drag Racing Edge, Words Brad Littlefield/Photos V.A. Atkins & Phil Hutchison
Ocala, Fla., resident Josh Hart, had his dreams materialize by earning his first national event victory on the sport’s biggest stage.
When racing fans think of the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the first racer linked to the event is legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, a fellow Ocala neighbor to Hart. His iconic performances helped shaped Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis into the hallowed grounds that every drag racer dreams of winning at. Hart will have to remove the “up-and-coming” label usually attached to his name, as an Indy win certifies that the driver of the Advance Auto Parts A/Fuel dragster has arrived.
“It was a great experience, that’s for sure,” said Hart. “We’ve been putting a lot of effort into it. After we serviced the car after the race, I jumped in the support vehicle and drove 14 hours home. I did a radio interview over the phone and thought, ‘That was pretty cool.’ I’m not big into Facebook, but I checked that and saw all the messages. It starts to sink in.”
Hart qualified with a career-best 5.18 and ran a 5.19 to defeat Seattle winner Kim Parker in the first round. He went 5.21 against kirk Wolf and 5.26 opposite Jeff Veale to set up a final against Megan Meyer, who defeated Randy Meyer Racing teammate Justin Ashley in the previous round. Hart got off the line first with an .029 reaction time and won the 5.30 to 5.36 battle. All told, Hart made the quickest run of three elimination rounds and the second-quickest run of the remaining round.
The event wasn’t all smooth sailing for the crew of leader Gene Gallant, Robert Smullen, Donald Gallant, John Kohlweiss, and Mike Marko that the numbers might make it appear. A broken crankshaft on the first qualifying attempt created concern and forced the team to work hard, but the team was up for the task.
“We broke a crank that had only one run on it on the very first qualifying pass,” said Hart. “I thought, ‘Aw, man. Here we go.’ We changed engines, and that other engine was magical. It came to life immediately.
“This goes to the team. These are all fabulous guys. They put me under their wing. I just drive.”
In addition to his crew, Hart thanked wife Brittanie, Advance Auto Parts, HLC Trucking, OWV Excavating, Modern Muscle Cars, and his “adopted family” of Dennis and Suzanne Hendershot.
The 33-year-old driver is an Indiana native who relocated to Florida with wife Brittanie in 2009 where they began their all-under-one-roof automotive center Burnyzz Speed Shop. His passion for hot rods and all things fast led him to competing with his Ford Lightning at Gainesville Raceway in 2011. He worked his way up the ranks to Top Alcohol Dragster in 2015.
Hart and crew chief Gallant took chances on each other with Gallant taking a leap of faith to work for the new driver and team owner and Hart granting Gallant, who was a mechanical force behind the success of brother and 2002 world champ Arthur for many years, his first full-fledged opportunity at being a tuner. They have had remarkable success this season with three regional event victories in the Northeast that helped them lock up the East Region championship and an Indy win that puts them in contention to battle for a national title.
“My crew chief is fabulous,” said Hart. “He’d always been on the mechanical side before, so we kind of took a chance on each other. He’d always worked under his brother, so now it’s his time to shine. The car is running good. The team is strong. If we stay with the endurance marathon, we’ll be alright.”
For more information on Josh Hart, visit: www.jlhdragster.com