Josh Hart has an ultimate “how it started” versus “how it’s going” story, and social media is there to remind him.
“It’s been a process,” Hart told RACER of building his NHRA Top Fuel team. “We started this thing in one of my little garages and we had one trailer. Now we’ve got two trailers and two brand-new cars. It’s just been an evolution that is very awesome to look back on.
“(Expletive) Facebook memories. You scroll those and you see us working in a parking lot in front of a gas station, and you’re like, ‘Wow, we really started there.’”
Hart’s driving career began on the streets of Indianapolis — the public ones. Hart admits he was not a favorite of local law enforcement, and it was a suggestion to check out drag racing that changed his life.
In his Top Fuel debut in 2021 at Gainesville, Hart won. Only running a partial schedule that season, Hart picked up a second win and advanced to four semifinals. It’s been a fast upward climb since, Hart going full-time in 2022 and making the Countdown to the Championship.
But despite his unproven record and limited experience, Hart was able to hire some of the best in the business for his team. Hart understands how lucky he’s been in that regard.
“They are everything,” Hart said. “They are everything and I mean that in the most sincerest way. I’m sure that people say that, but it’s like, they made me, not the other way around, and I’ll never forget that. I hope I can keep all the same people for the duration of my career. That’s the goal. I feel like the grass is never greener on the other side, so if you can work through stuff and build on a solid foundation, we can work through anything as long as we communicate.”
Ron Douglas, Hart’s crew chief, is one of those people. Douglas has spent decades in the sport working with numerous talented drivers at places like Don Schumacher Racing, John Force Racing and Cruz Pedregon.
“I think Ron Douglas took a chance on me, and I’m forever grateful for that,” Hart said. “I’ve tried every single race and every single season we’ve been together so far to prove to him how grateful I am. But there is a lot of risk on both ends — it was a leap of faith for both of us.”
Although success came quickly, and Hart is loving life at the racetrack with his wife Brittanie and two small children (they were eating snow cones together in the pit when RACER arrived, a day after Hart went provisional No. 1 in qualifying), it hasn’t been easy building a Top Fuel team from scratch. Hart remembers 10 years ago when he was thinking about getting into racing and inquired about the cost and he was told that if he was thinking about that, he couldn’t afford it.
“And I looked up to that person until that moment,” Hart said. “Then that was all the fire I needed to say, ‘OK, well, I’m going to do it,’ and here we are. But it is a lot.
“The logistics and the politics and obviously the money, getting the proper people and the proper parts. Owning it is much different than being a paid driver out here.”
Something Hart has found is his competition seemingly treats him like a veteran and not the young team his resume would reflect.
“There are no breaks,” Hart said. “But shame on me for thinking that we were going to have a bunch of friends and play nice. The bottom line is everybody wants to win, so everybody that is in this class is willing to rip your throat out on the starting line, and I’ve got to rise to the occasion.
“I guess I should take it as a compliment — they expect more out of me. I ran into some issues in Las Vegas for the first time and I didn’t know. I didn’t think of it the way they were thinking of it, and no one ever told me what I was doing was wrong. So, I guess we’ll just leave it at that.
“We’ve all talked since then and they told me they would appreciate me speeding up (my staging) a bit, and I was like, ‘I can do that. But I just wish someone would have told me before they tried to make a thing out of it on national television.’”
Hart is still drinking from a fire hose as a Top Fuel driver. While he has no concerns about his seasoned team doing their jobs, Hart learns something new about his craft every time he pulls up to make a run.
But in a short amount of time, Hart burst onto the scene and has become a threat in the class. He has two wins and five final-round appearances, most recently at zMAX Dragway. A driver always wants more wins, but Hart is happy with where his R+L Carriers team is early into his second full season.
“We have a very nice car right now; I love it a lot,” Hart said. “It’s comfortable for me. The team again has jelled properly. I think we’re right where we need to be. I think we’ll be just fine.”
Comfort has been key. Over the winter, Hart and his team worked hard to get his dragster better suited to him, and he feels they’ve accomplished doing so.
“I think the best way for me to describe it is I can see better and reach the controls easier,” Hart said. “It’s pretty mindless when it comes to the general operation of it.”
With more laps down the track, more knowledge will come, giving Hart and his team the next little bit to collect another Wally. Although they have a consistent car, Hart said they are still learning something about it every weekend. Soon enough, though, he believes they’ll have the dragster where it should be.
“I would say we are definitely 100% in competition,” he said. “I think we’re a championship contender — we’ve learned a lot together. We’re still young, it’s not even a full two and a half years. But we have just a solid, solid foundation.”
Speaking of his dragster, on the backside of the wing, it reads, “Anything’s Possible.”
It’s not a new addition, Hart put it there at the start of his NHRA career. But the phrase is so deeply ingrained in how Hart lives his life and handles business that Brittanie also has it tattooed on her foot.
“If you look at our track record, where we came from to where we are now, in business, life, racing, our family,” Hart said, “it’s hard not to believe that anything is possible because we’ve had so many crazy hurdles.
“I could bore you to death with all the details. It’s no exaggeration. It’s crazy. Every aspect.”