Josh Hart made his Top Fuel Camping World Drag Racing Series debut at the season-opening 52nd annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. Hart qualified eighth, with “Anything Can Happen” emblazoned across the back of his car’s rear wing. But even Hart probably didn’t expect a win to actually happen.
Hart, an Ocala, Fla. native, became the first driver to win in their first NHRA start since the late Darrell Russell did it 20 years ago to open the 2001 season.
Hart ran 3.826-seconds at 323.66 mph in his Burnyzz/Technet dragster to beat Shawn Langdon in the final round as Langdon hazed the tires. Hart was spectacular on the starting line (.026) in the final round and cruised to the historic win at his home track to become the 110th driver to win in Top Fuel.
Hart reached the final round thanks to victories against Clay Millican, three-time defending world champ Steve Torrence (the number 1 qualifier) and Justin Ashley, staying in the low 3.80s in the second and third rounds.
“Never in a million years would I have thought this was going to happen,” Hart said. “I’ve wanted to do this for a really long time and to do it in Top Fuel is just amazing. (Crew chief) Ron Douglas gave me an amazing car and the guys have worked their butts off. It’s just amazing. That thing was a monster going down the track.”
Langdon’s 35th career final round appearance included round wins against Doug Foley, Leah Pruett and Antron Brown.
Brown was hoping to pick up right where he left off in 2020, and that was by ending his day in the winner’s circle. The driver of the Matco Tools Toyota Top Fuel dragster came close, successfully advancing to the semifinals.
Antron qualified his Matco machine 10th to set up a round-one matchup with Mike Salinas on Sunday morning. The 2013 NHRA Gatornationals Top Fuel champion posted a 3.759 ET, but it was his reflexes that allowed him to capture the holeshot victory over Salinas’ 3.737-second pass.
Brown’s E1 holeshot win was his 55th overall, and his ability to launch quickly off the line came into play once again in round two when he used his starting line advantage coupled with a 3.809 E.T. to defeat Billy Torrence and earn a bid to the semifinals.
Brown was clean off the line against his round three challenger, Shawn Langdon, but started hazing the tires around 400 feet while Langdon was able to complete a full pass for the win.
“All-and-all it was a pretty good race weekend for this Matco Tools Toyota team here in Gainesville,” said former PSM racer Brown. “Anytime you get to the semifinals, you’ve done a good job given how stout the competition is in this Top Fuel class. We learned a lot and that’s the mission.
“These were tricky, tricky conditions here in Gainesville today and our Matco Tools car just keeps getting better and better. The more laps we make I feel we’re just going to stronger. We’ll go back to the shop and work hard and come out swinging at the next race. Today we got a piece of the steak, but we didn’t get dessert. Next race we need to get the whole meal.”
Torrence qualified No. 1 for the 28th time in his career after his run of 3.699-seconds at 324.90 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster from Friday held up. After a string of three straight dominant seasons, Torrence appeared to keep his momentum going to open 2021.
Steve’s father, Billy, moved to second in the final qualifying session with a run of 3.735 at 326.95, while Leah Pruett also made a big jump to close out Saturday, going 3.741 at 326.32 to qualify third.
TOP FUEL CAR eliminations
ROUND ONE — Josh Hart, 4.529, 169.57 def. Clay Millican, 5.973, 104.11; Antron Brown, 3.759, 322.42 def. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 329.83; Justin Ashley, 3.733, 324.05 def. Brittany Force, 3.727, 331.94; Leah Pruett, 3.787, 314.09 def. Mike Bucher, 7.686, 81.27; Billy Torrence, 3.744, 327.66 def. Scott Palmer, 3.791, 322.27; Steve Torrence, 3.714, 328.06 def. Joe Morrison, 15.731, 75.00; Doug Kalitta, 3.746, 309.20 def. Arthur Allen, 6.093, 102.46; Shawn Langdon, 3.752, 320.36 def. Doug Foley, 3.801, 322.58;
QUARTERFINALS — Langdon, 3.764, 317.79 def. Pruett, 3.887, 294.05; Brown, 3.803, 322.04 def. B. Torrence, 4.500, 173.52; Ashley, 3.833, 321.81 def. Kalitta, 7.895, 84.83; Hart, 3.838, 322.88 def. S. Torrence, 4.521, 186.67;
SEMIFINALS — Hart, 3.811, 325.14 def. Ashley, Broke; Langdon, 3.821, 318.39 def. Brown, 4.450, 182.92;
FINAL — Hart, 3.826, 323.66 def. Langdon, 4.244, 219.08.
Top Fuel qualifying
#1 Steve Torrence, 3.699 seconds, 324.90 mph vs. 16. Joe Morrison, 4.294, 224.06; 2. Billy Torrence, 3.735, 326.95 vs. 15. Scott Palmer, 4.110, 264.49; 3. Leah Pruett, 3.741, 326.32 vs. 14. Mike Bucher, 4.029, 301.00; 4. Doug Kalitta, 3.746, 307.37 vs. 13. Arthur Allen, 3.915, 299.20; 5. Brittany Force, 3.747, 330.47 vs. 12. Justin Ashley, 3.873, 319.60; 6. Shawn Langdon, 3.749, 323.89 vs. 11. Doug Foley, 3.849, 322.11; 7. Mike Salinas, 3.767, 324.36 vs. 10. Antron Brown, 3.809, 316.75; 8. Josh Hart, 3.768, 324.44 vs. 9. Clay Millican, 3.787, 317.94.
Did Not Qualify: 17. Krista Baldwin, 4.503, 181.81; 18. Todd Paton, broke.
story by NHRA, DSR and Tim Hailey, photos by Hailey