NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Rajah Caruth arrives at the...

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Rajah Caruth arrives at the 2024 iNASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Jan. 19, 2024. The 21-year-old student at Winston-Salem State has cracked into NASCAR's national-level series racing and on Friday, March 1, 2024, won the Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Credit: AP/Nell Redmond

LAS VEGAS — Rajah Caruth was like any other 4-year-old boy the first time he watched the movies “Cars” and vowed to become his own version of Lightning McQueen.

He was, his family insists, obsessed with becoming a racecar driver. He just wasn't sure he would ever get there.

Just days after HendrickCars.com signed on to sponsor the 21-year-old Caruth for the entire 2024 season, he earned his first career NASCAR national series victory in Friday night’s Truck Series Race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Caruth joined Wendell Scott and Bubba Wallace as the only Black drivers to win at NASCAR’s national level.

Born in Atlanta in a Caribbean household and raised in Washington, D.C., racing cars wasn't really within his reach, even after his first in-person trip to a track — Richmond Raceway in Virginia in 2014 — only fueled his desire.

Just like reigning Daytona 500 winner William Byron, Caruth taught himself to race on a computer. Five years after his trip as a fan to Richmond, Caruth had earned a spot in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program, where he made his debut in a legend car at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 17.

“Man, there was a lot of days, especially in high school, that I did not think I could get here. I can’t tell you how many times I was at internship ... working like at the basketball court, whatever, in the box office, just working on my website when I was just iRacing," Caruth said. “A lot of those days I didn’t think this would be at all possible.”

He graduated high school the next year in 2020 and moved to North Carolina, where Caruth is in his senior year at Winston-Salem State. He is pursuing a degree in motorsports management while embarking on a NASCAR career that has landed him a full season ride in the Truck Series with Spire Motorsports.

Rajah Caruth (24) during qualifying for a NASCAR truck series...

Rajah Caruth (24) during qualifying for a NASCAR truck series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. The 21-year-old student at Winston-Salem State has cracked into NASCAR's national-level series racing and on Friday, March 1, 2024, won the Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Credit: AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Caruth thanked Rick Hendrick for the full season commitment of funding that is allowing him to run the Truck Series schedule.

“I’m just super grateful for Mr. H because he’s the only reason why I got in this thing full-time,” Caruth said. “This winter was a lot of uncertainty about where I’d be driving, not having a bunch of funding behind me at the time. I just stayed true to my faith and my family. Fortunately a lot of people put a lot of stuff together for me to be in this spot.”

The win was celebrated by drivers across NASCAR, particularly Wallace.

Wallace has been Caruth's mentor of sorts — he was among the first to get to Caruth on pit road after Caruth caused a wreck that cost him a win in the season-opening race at Daytona — and he nervously watched the Trucks race from a Las Vegas sports book.

Rajah Caruth (24) during qualifying for a NASCAR truck series...

Rajah Caruth (24) during qualifying for a NASCAR truck series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. The 21-year-old student at Winston-Salem State has cracked into NASCAR's national-level series racing and on Friday, March 1, 2024, won the Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Credit: AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack

“I've been hard on him since Day 1. I will never forget the first time watching him in a Legends car at Charlotte and I got in his face, ‘What are you so afraid of the wall for? You haven’t even hit.' I feel proud to have played a small part in this," Wallace said. “And I called him, and he was pumped. But, like, his burnout was lame and his phone call was lame. ‘I was like, ’Come on man, I'm more pumped than you are.'”

In his first season driving a truck for Spire, the soft-spoken Caruth kept the team a perfect 3 for 3 on the year following wins by Nick Sanchez in Daytona and Kyle Busch in Atlanta.

Daniel Suarez, like Wallace, Sanchez and Caruth all former members of the Drive for Diversity program, said he greatly respected Caruth's work ethic and new opportunities to advance.

“The Drive for Diversity program has changed quite a bit since Bubba Wallace and myself were there 10 years ago,” Suarez said. "Ten years ago, it was a great program to give you an opportunity for the K&N Series and the ARCA Series. But to make the jump to a national series, it was very difficult. You had to be lucky and you have to be very, very good to get an opportunity.

“Today, the Drive for Diversity program is so involved in the Truck Series and that’s very special because it is giving an opportunity to these young guys like Rajah and Nick Sanchez to get an opportunity in the Truck Series and perform at a very competitive level,” Suarez continued. "We didn’t have that 10 years ago, so I’m very happy for them.”

Caruth hopes to be an inspiration to aspiring young racers unsure they will ever get a chance.

“If you think you’re just going to wake up and be in front of you, it’s not. You just got to put in the work and listen,” Caruth said. "Emphasis on ‘listen’ because I think about my first years racing on iRacing, learning how to be fast on there, making a lot of mistakes. Honestly it was kind of the same when I started in real life.

“I just listened to people that wanted to help me. I put in the work, late nights, early mornings, showing up. I caught some breaks, for sure. I tell those kids, because I know there’s a lot out there that are in similar spots than me, y’all can do it.”

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