By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
On Thursday, Jan. 17, Josh Hart was announced as one of two new additions to Bob Vandergriff Racing. Hart and Shawn Reed will split duties to pilot the second Top Fuel Dragster for the team.
“I’ve always looked up to Vandergriff and I reached out to them,” he said. “He was willing to put me in the car. I couldn’t be more blessed. He’s fantastic and he’s NHRA royalty. The fact that he was even willing to take my phone call was nice.”
Hart admitted this all transpired quickly. Former pilot Blake Alexander left the team before Christmas.
“It was relatively quick,” Hart said. “We were looking for someone to do licensing and we felt we would segue into it slowly. And with the departure of Mr. Alexander [Blake Alexander], it opened up a spot. Bob and I were able to come to an agreement. It’s really, really cool that he even picked me and to drive for him. It fell into place perfectly.”
The Ocala, Florida native will pursue his license on the Monday following the historic 50th anniversary Gatornationals. All of his licensing passes have come at the facility.
“It’s very important to me. I got into a lot of trouble when I was coming up, driving on the streets,” Hart said. “A good friend of mine, Gene Selby, took me to the drag strip for the first-time, and I was hooked. That was Gainesville Raceway. I did my Super Comp, Top Dragster, and my A-Fuel license there.
““Big Daddy” Don Garlits was even there when I did my license there for A-Fuel. I’m excited that all of this kind of happened there. It’s very, very special and a very sentimental place for me.”
During the testing session, Hart can lean on his new boss, Bob Vandergriff, and his new teammate, Reed, for assistance on how to drive a Top Fuel Dragster. He admitted it’s all about learning.
He can also lean on Vandergriff and Reed throughout his rookie season, as well.
“The smartest person in the room is the person that realizes they’re not the smartest person in the room,” he said. “I will hang on their words and hopefully come up with my own driving style. I’m excited to learn from people with way more experience and time in the seat than I have.”
Hart is not sure what the biggest transition will be yet.
“I’ve heard that the launch is the same,” he said. “Everything happens a bit quicker, so probably the hardest part for me is going to be the placement going down the track. Being aware of your surroundings, because everything will happen substantially quicker.”
Hart will be one of two rookies for Bob Vandergriff Racing in 2019. Vandergriff’s nephew Jordan will pilot his own dragster.
The news hasn’t sunk in yet that Hart is a professional once he receives his license. The plan is to participate in four races in 2019.
“To me, the only car that I care about is the one that I’m sitting in,” Hart said. “I like everyone in the class. You are right, I’ve looked up to them a long time. When you’re in the seat, you can’t think about whose in the other lane. You just need to do your job.”
One driver that Hart looks up to in the category is Brittany Force. She is the 2017 Top Fuel World Champion.
“Brittany Force actually.” he said. “I like her mentality. She doesn’t seem like she’s above anyone. She’s not ignorant. She’s very down to earth. I just like everything about her. She’s a World Champion and one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. I hope to maintain that level of humbleness no matter how successful this is or isn’t.”
Ron Douglas was Blake Alexander’s crew chief. The team added Joe Barlam in the off-season. It is not clear if Hart and Reed’s team will work with these two crew chiefs, or another set of crew chiefs.
“They all seem down to earth and are some of the biggest names in the sport,” Hart said. “Right now, I’m just really, really blessed to be on the roster to be honest with you. I’ll have to answer that later for you once I have more experience working with them. Right now, the first impressions are all very good.”
Hart admitted he is going to have jitters in the Top Fuel Dragster.
“I’m sure,” he said. “I’ve made over 300 passes in my A-Fuel car and I still get the butterflies when I turn the corner and you stage with 40,000 people looking at you. The truth is anytime you turn that engine on, everything goes quiet. All the butterflies stops and you have to do your job.”
While Hart plans to race four times in Top Fuel in the professional category, the plan is for Hart to also race his full-time NHRA Sportsman schedule. Hart is an NHRA Division I Sportsman racer in Top Alcohol Dragster.
Hart won the historic U.S. Nationals in 2017 and 2018. He also won the 2018 Atlanta National event.
In addition, he has won eight NHRA regional races, including the last three at Atco Dragway in Atco, New Jersey. His very first Top Alcohol Dragster win was at the New Jersey track.
“My game plan is to fully maintain my A-Fuel team and they have all been very supportive of this,” Hart said. “But they are two separate entities combined.”
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