A junior at the School Without Walls grew up watching the Disney Pixar animated film “Cars.” He was infatuated with the racecars as a young boy, and his love of racing continued throughout his childhood.
This weekend, Rajah Caruth pursued his dream and competed for a spot in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Driver Development Program, which focuses on training 12- to 16-year-old women and people of color to race electric go-karts and later compete in the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway in June and July.
Caruth spent Saturday and Sunday in Mooresville, N.C. where he competed alongside seven other teenagers for a yearlong spot on the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Driver Development Program team. Four of the eight competitors will find out if they earn spots on the team at the end of April, Caruth said.
Caruth said he wasn’t sure what to expect going into the competition in North Carolina, but the chance of earning a spot in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Driver Development Program will make him one step closer to become a professional racer.
“Overall it will probably be serious but I don’t think it’s to the point where it will be over-the-top negative,” he said. “I think it will be a good experience.”
Caruth began racing in 2017 after doing a three-week summer program – where attendees learn about the mechanics of go-karts, topics like friction and acceleration, and the basics of actually driving an electric go-kart – at Autobahn Indoor Speedway in Jessup, Md.
“A lot of people who become race car drivers start when they’re ages 5, 6, 7 – so it was kind of now or never,” Caruth said.
Since his summer program in Maryland, Caruth has been practicing at least 10 hours a week through a widely-used online racing simulator called iRacing. With iRacing, Caruth can compete online against up to 40 competitors with the wheel and pedal he has at home. He has earned more than 20 wins and 157 top-five finishes in nine months of training.
Caruth said that he tries to participate in a couple of races every day after he does his homework and chores.
“It’s basically like the real thing outside of not having the people you have to deal with and the heat,” he said. “It’s very realistic.”
But Caruth was not able to explicitly practice for the weekend’s competition with iRacing because the online simulator does not offer go-karts. Instead, Caruth prepared by going back to Autobahn Indoor Speedway, breaking in his new helmet and gloves and watching GoPro videos of the track he would race on during the competition.
While Caruth said iRacing is more convenient because he is able to practice from his own home, he said it will “never be exactly like the real thing.”
“You certainly have the convenience of iRacing to do it every day for hours on end, but in terms of driving and real-life driving in general, nothing really compares to it in terms of what you deal with mentally and physically,” Caruth said.
Despite being a fan of race car driving since 2006 when the movie “Cars” came out, Caruth did not start racing until 2017. Caruth said with the help of his parents, he was able to actually start pursuing race car driving, and he hopes this opportunity translates into a future career behind the wheel.
Over his past few years of racing, Caruth said he has realized that he wants to pursue race car driving as a career and will attend college only if racing does not pan out. Caruth said that the idea of racing with other people and “giving it all you got” while being able to show off his abilities always brings him back to the track.
“Overall, I think it’s just fun,” he said. “I hope I’m meant to do it – I just really enjoy doing it. I feel like I’m pretty decent.”
Sidney Lee and Zilana Lee contributed reporting.