Whereas others his age may have been born into racing families or had the chance to drive a race car from a young age, Rajah Caruth's path to NASCAR is a dye-in-the-wool creation of the 21st century. When he has born in June of 2002, NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program was two years from being established, and the Pixar movie Cars was years away from being released. YouTube, as well, was three years away from being created. Although online sim racing had become a growing subculture through Papyrus Racing Games, it was years away from sophistication or NASCAR sanctioning.
As Caruth grew, all of those things helped captivate the son of a Howard University professor from Washington, D.C. and make him a diehard race fan. But even then, it would have been farfetched to suggest that a young, Black driver from a non-traditional NASCAR market would go from attending races as a fan to racing at the sport's highest levels in just a few short years.
But heading into the season opening race, there was Rajah Caruth, a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie, atop the speed charts in the opening practice of the season. The fastest man in Daytona.
.@rajahcaruth_ took the typical modest driver approach after being fastest in Truck Series practice. Credited his @GMSRacingLLC crew for the offseason work they put in to give him a fast truck. pic.twitter.com/Of0Cpq5MA9— Steven Taranto (@STaranto92) February 16, 2023
Caruth began his racing career through iRacing midway through 2018, where his uncommonly fast rise through the ranks began in the eNASCAR Ignite Series. Making it to the championship race in the Ignite Series, Caruth then became the first iRacing driver to ever earn a tryout for the Drive for Diversity Youth Driver Combine. And that tryout led to him becoming an ARCA championship contender in 2022, a Rookie of the Year contender in Trucks this season, and a part-time competitor in the Xfinity Series for Alpha Prime Racing.
When examined in a vacuum, Caruth's rise through the ranks has occurred with such speed that it's been regarded as a surprise -- including, initially, by the young man himself.
"At first I was [surprised], because I was really bad about confidence and negative self-talk and stuff. But now I'm not," Caruth told CBS Sports at Daytona . "Because say what you want … I've gotten pretty fortunate with the opportunities I've received, don't get me wrong, but I really feel like I've worked extremely hard to make the most of them.
"I feel like with the help of a lot of other people, I've made the most of my opportunities so far. I feel confident in my work ethic and my preparation."
By his own admission, Caruth has been incredibly lucky. As NASCAR worked to grow their Drive for Diversity program, Caruth became enthralled with NASCAR and consumed the sport through not only races on television, but through highlight videos on YouTube as well as stop-motion races, video games, and more.
By the time Caruth earned a place in the program, he found ways to acclimate to being on the inside of the racing subculture and deal with the challenges of not only being a young racer, but of being different from his counterparts who had already spent years racing on the bullrings of the southeast while Caruth was still discovering what way becoming a racer would be possible.
"From 2019 to last year, they developed me not only as a driver but as a young man. Because I lived by myself the last three years, 300+ miles away from my family with at first no real friends down there, especially none that looked like me," Caruth said. "That was really hard, especially that first summer. Because funny enough, the first summer I lived in North Carolina was 2020 with everything that went down.
"It was definitely a lot of ups and downs in that program, but I am in debt to Max Siegel, Rev Racing, and everybody that's been on that team and in the Drive for Diversity program. Because I wouldn't be here if they didn't take that chance on me."
From that chance, Caruth has since earned recognition as a talented young driver with room still to grow. He was third in ARCA points last year, finished 11th in his Truck Series debut at Gateway, and he earned a 12th place finish in an Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. He has also earned something incredibly valuable -- the respect of those in and around the garage, from the sport's executive level to those like Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins, a lifelong racer and a strong advocate for Caruth.
The value of that showed up in last Friday's Truck Series opener. Drafting with Chase Elliott midway through the race, Caruth attempted to go through the middle of a three-wide hole that opened up. But it closed just as quickly, sending Caruth sideways in front of the field and triggering a multi-truck crash.
6th caution of the night at Daytona. pic.twitter.com/nz1Kxu6bLx— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 18, 2023
In similar situations, some young drivers may have been the subject of chidings over the radios of veteran racers. But in the aftermath of that wreck, Elliott instead commented on how well Caruth had been doing pushing him along in the draft. And his veteran spotter, Eddie D'Hondt, likewise took a sympathetic tone.
"It's all part of learning for him," he said. "He's a good kid."
Such sentiments matter enormously for Caruth, who has worked to build his relationships and reputation in the garage area just as he's also had to learn to value the opinions of those within the industry over noise from bad actors on social media.
"It means a lot to have those conversations and relationships with those guys, because those are people that I've looked up to for years," Caruth said. "And to see them and have conversations with them and seemingly to have laid a good impression in treating them nicely means a lot.
"... It really means a lot to see stuff like that, because those cats, they know what's going on and they've seen me around the garage for the last handful of years, showing the effort and being present and trying to be as big of a sponge as possible. That really means a lot."