Race Weekend Central

Rajah Caruth Learning in Classroom, on Racetrack in 2023

School is still in session for Rajah Caruth.

Well, not actual classes, at least not in the summer. But the 21-year old has been getting an education in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series during his first full-time campaign in any of of the sport’s top three divisions.

Whether he’s in classes for Winston-Salem State University, wandering the grounds of a racetrack in a jersey (Caruth wore both a Chase Young Washington Commanders jersey and a personalized Washington Wizards look at Richmond Raceway in July) or behind the wheel of his GMS Racing truck, Caruth is balancing a ton in 2023.

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Frontstretch’s Adam Cheek caught up with Caruth the Friday of Richmond race weekend in July, where the two sought shelter in the GMS Racing hauler with outdoor heat indexes reaching nearly 115 degrees.

Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: How’s the college/racing balance evolved over the season in your first full-time campaign?

Rajah Caruth: Well, it’s the summer, so it’s very nice. But classes start in a little bit. So I’ll have to kind of reevaluate what I need to take this fall, this next spring and next fall to to graduate.

Cheek: How nice is it to have these few months off, and what’s the difference between balancing things in the summer, balancing things in the fall?

Caruth: Like, I can go to sleep and wake up and not be worried about getting in my car and [being] like “Dang, I really got this homework assignment, I gotta drive all the way to school.”

But it’s the life that I chose. I wouldn’t change it.

Cheek: So let’s get back to last year for a second. You made four starts for Spire Motorsports in trucks. One of them was right here at Richmond.

Caruth: Oh, I sucked [laughs].

Cheek: [laughs] What did that teach you though?

Caruth: So much. I think it’s gonna pay dividends for me, just because I think my focus was a little bit strayed last year and I just didn’t know at the same time what I didn’t know. So [after] a year in development as a driver and as a young man, I feel like I’m light-years ahead of where I was last year. And I’ll see kind of where that shakes out for us tomorrow.

Cheek: Tell me about getting to know these guys at GMS and how the deal came to drive for them this year.

Caruth: It really didn’t come together until late last year, but fortunately had some supporters of me financially. We came into contact with [them] last year, and they wanted to support me, and they did this year for this deal. So it’s all thanks to them.

I’m not gonna put them on blast, but it’s been really a blessing to have their support. […] Chris Lambert has been my spotter the last two or three years in ARCA [Menards Series] and did the Trucks with me this year, so [it’s] great to have the continuity with those guys. But also with my new team […] they’ve been really fun to grow and work with.

So it’s been awesome to grow with a team that sees me as an equal and treats me the right way. And we mess around and have fun, but at the same time, it’s work and we treat each other really well, I feel like. So it’s been great to be part of this so far.

I [also] really get on their nerves. I try to show I care in whatever way I can, and sometimes that’s by getting on their nerves [laughs].

Cheek: You’ve been backed by the Wendell Scott Foundation for pretty much the entire year. How did that partnership come about?

Caruth: That really came together pretty late last year. I was kind of hands-off for the situation, because the people that were supporting me came into contact with — or had already [known] — the Scott family, and then that was decided that they would be on the truck.

At that point, I was just like, “Whatever’s gonna be on it’s what’s gonna be on it.” And for it to be the Wendell Scott Foundation is really, really cool — for me being, after Bubba [Wallace], I guess, the next Black driver up, it’s pretty cool to carry the legacy of the Scott family and do my part.

Cheek: You’ve definitely been in the mix for races this year. You led your first lap at Nashville Superspeedway a few races ago. What have you learned the most this season and improved on?

Caruth: I think, for me, it honestly hasn’t been a speed issue. I honestly thought I just wouldn’t be fast enough at first, but I quickly learned it wasn’t my pace, it was just more awareness and race craft, knowing when to push the envelope on the racetrack and when just to chill out.

I think Kansas was my biggest lesson of, like, “Chill, it’s OK, you’re good. You don’t need to get it all then and there.” Before, up to that point, I was always [going] as fast as I can, and this is do or die. […] Thankfully, I got good people around me in my family and in racing, and they’ve showed me it’s not the end of the world no matter how a race goes. So that’s been kind of groundbreaking in my development.

[…] I’ve definitely made not the best decisions. I think about how I’ve handled things with other drivers, but I’ve learned from them, and just knowing that it’s not the end of the world no matter how the race goes, or if I give up one spot here or did this [or that].

Cheek: You’re teammates with Grant Enfinger this year, of course. We’re further down the road this season, so how’s working with Grant as a seasoned veteran of the series, and what guidance has he given you?

Caruth: Yeah, it’s been a big help with Grant. He’s kicked my butt at a lot of places, and a lot of places I’ve been right up there with him. It’s been great to bounce stuff off him, and obviously he’s got a lot of experience and he’s really good.

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So to have that baseline of where I need to compare myself to with him and Christian [Eckes], honestly, it’s been a really valuable resource to talk to those guys in the meetings. Grant and I sat down this week and talked about Richmond stuff, and I really appreciated him giving his opinion about this racetrack, what his focuses are and how I can kind of work on myself. So [it’s] great to have him as a teammate.

Cheek: And you’re back with Alpha Prime Racing part time this year. What have you learned the most in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition so far in 2023?

Caruth: I think, last year, I just was kind of driving. You kind of saw that […] like at Kansas, [Las] Vegas, Martinsville, Phoenix, I’m running top 20 in that stuff and beating or running in front of Cup-affiliate teams.

I think this year, I kind of looked at it a different way — knowing the stuff I’m in and learning not to compound really good runs in [Las] Vegas and Fontana [Auto Club Speedway] and Charlotte, running right around the top 20. I sped at Dover, I sped at Charlotte, trying to get every little bit, and I think I sped at Dover by .03 of a mile an hour.

But learning [that] a 10th of a mile an hour is not worth going down a lap on a green-flag cycle, just maximizing the day and understanding that a 20th, 17th or 22nd is really good in this car. And that’s what that group needs. There’s been other sides of the execution that haven’t been handled well, but I guess on my side, I’ve just learned how to maximize the day and not risk it all on pit road or [by] putting myself in a bad spot.

Cheek: From here going forward, what are some of the tracks that you’re most looking forward to, whether it’s your Xfinity slate or in trucks?

Caruth: Homestead[-Miami Speedway], because I’ve never been there before. That tire is what we raced at Darlington, so I feel good about Homestead because I feel really strongly about how I race mile-and-a-halfs. That’s been something that I’ve really taken a liking to and learned to drive naturally, so I’d say Homestead is the one I’m looking forward to the most.

Cheek: As we stand right now, what are your plans for 2024?

Caruth: Well, I haven’t signed any contracts. I can’t say there’s really any in the making right now, but I got a couple options. One thing’s for sure, I’m staying with Chevy, so I haven’t really talked to anybody at Toyota.

Loyalty is something I take very seriously, and Chevy has been behind me and GM has been behind me since day one. So as long as they’re with me, I’m with them and they’ve been with me so far.

Cheek: Take me through a pre-race or race-day playlist for you.

Caruth: I’ll show you right now. […] I have a great mix of musicians. So there’s HARDY, Lupe Fiasco, Lecrae, G Herbo, Lil Baby, Meek Mill, Nardo Wick, Jason Aldean, [YoungBoy Never Broke Again], Pooh Shiesty, Skillet, Future and Drake. That’s really it. Little bit of everything, very across the board.

I’d say that’s probably more about my personality. I like a lot of different music, but I also like a lot of different things.

About the author

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he covered sports there and later spent a year and a half as a sports host on 910 the Fan in Richmond, VA. He's freelanced for Richmond Magazine and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and also hosts the "Adam Cheek's Sports Week" podcast. Adam has followed racing since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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good luck to him with his school work and racing.

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