CONCORD, N.C. — Two years ago, Rajah Caruth was simply a race fan with aspirations of landing a real-world shot behind the wheel, building his résumé primarily through iRacing.
Now, he can call himself a NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series winner, considering the 18-year-old native of Washington, D.C., drove to victory lane in a late model at historic Greenville-Pickens Speedway on Oct. 3.
Caruth grabbed the trophy in the back half of twin 30-lap features at the South Carolina half mile, moving to the lead on lap 14 in his No. 6 Sunoco-sponsored Toyota Camry and driving away from Riley Gentry by 1.773 seconds at the checkered flag.
Roughly three hours earlier, Caruth finished second to Gentry in the opening stanza, so the win created a moment that Caruth made sure to soak in when it happened.
“For a few seconds, all I could say was, ‘Wow,’” Caruth recalled during a phone interview with SPEED SPORT. “I’d been thinking about how it would feel and stuff when it happened, but the reality was nothing like I expected. It was so much greater. When it came Saturday, it was just like, ‘Man, this is it. We finally did it.’
“It was a moment for us all to embrace it before we move on to the next one.”
Often times in racing, victory comes where preparation meets opportunity. In this case, Caruth noted that his Rev Racing team’s preparation afforded him with “one of the best cars I’ve had” for the race.
“Man, my car was really good, and we made a lot of positive adjustments throughout the day,” said Caruth, who is also a student at Winston-Salem State University. “The first twin, when I started first, I just fired off too tight on the starts and restarts. We got strung out there for a little bit, before I started being able to pick people off with some really good forward drive. We ended up finishing second in the first twin by half a car length or so, but I knew we had a car at that point that could go out and win. For the second twin, I started third and got to the lead pretty early to where I could control the pace better.
“I was trying really hard to focus on myself, and not put the position in jeopardy so I could be ready to deal with things if a caution came out, but luckily it all worked down the stretch and fell in our favor.”
Caruth began his career through sim-racing, developing via the eNASCAR Ignite Series, a first-of-its-kind esports competition created to identify young talent by providing a low barrier of entry to the sport.
In 42 Ignite Series starts, Caruth finished second in seven races and competed in the championship race at the virtual Martinsville Speedway.
That paved the way for a shot with Rev Racing and the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program in 2019, with Caruth racing Legend Cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Summer Shootout Series. He was the first participant with a background primarily in iRacing to be selected to the diversity program.
Returning in 2020, Caruth advanced into late models, building speed throughout the summer months before Saturday night’s breakthrough performance.
“This was really big for me personally,” Caruth noted. “As someone who started from iRacing, you always believe in yourself, but there can be some doubts when it comes to a situation like this. So this kind of helped solidify in my mind that I can do this. It was a pretty big weekend, so I’m very thankful for how far we’ve come and it’s great to think about the growth we’ve had so far.
“The different divisions and stuff I’ve gone through and different things of that nature, I feel like all helped prepare me for what happened Saturday night. It’s all been building to this point.”
Of particular note was the facility where Caruth earned his first late model victory. Greenville-Pickens is the same track that NASCAR Cup Series star Bubba Wallace, the only African-American racing at the top level of the sport, earned his first major victory for Rev Racing.
Wallace’s Greenville-Pickens score came in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East — now the ARCA Menards Series East —on March 27, 2010. He beat Jody Lavender and Cole Whitt to the finish line that night.
“It’s cool because I actually knew going in that he (Wallace) had won there,” said Caruth, also an African-American driver who is trying to advance the same way that Wallace has. “We have banners up in the Rev shop, and one of the first ones up there is Bubba’s from that Greenville win back in 2010. Seeing that basically every day, I figured that it would be pretty cool if I could say I got my first one there also.
“It’s been cool to see how he’s navigated a lot of the factors and things he’s had to deal with in the sport,” Caruth added of Wallace. “To understand what he’s been through with everything, behind the wheel and just in life too, it’s been helpful because now I know how a lot of this stuff works. He’s a real inspiration, that’s for sure.”
Caruth is disappointed that the racing season is beginning to wind down because he feels he’s just beginning to get into a groove with Rev Racing after a full summer of late model competition.
However, that isn’t stopping him from living in the moment and looking ahead to what’s to come.
“It really is unfortunate that we’re coming to our last race in a couple of weeks, you know? I definitely think that we’re hitting our stride and where we need to be right now,” Caruth noted. “Hopefully going into the next year, we can continue our momentum and just extend from where we’re at right now.
“The goal is to be back with Rev next year in whatever capacity I can be and keep performing well for them both on and off the race track.”