Rajah Caruth (Photo by Ja'Mon Jackson)
Rajah Caruth (Photo by Ja'Mon Jackson)

Though only 17 years old, Washington, D.C.-based School Without Walls senior Rajah Caruth is already a renaissance man. If you speak to him, as he breaks down his interests in comic books, clothing design, hip-hop, soul, and country music, you’ll note that he has as many nuanced interests as he does years spent on Earth. Dig deeper and realize that he’s a member of NASCAR’s groundbreaking Drive for Diversity initiative, plus an eSports superstar, and the intrigue rises. Then applaud that he’s contemplating attending Winston-Salem State University next year to be a student in their Motorsports Management program. At this point, do realize that defining Caruth as a champion in a “City of Champions!’ may be undercutting his achievements and potential for excellence. He’s boldly navigating a path through ever-heightening levels of accomplishment. Where and how else will he triumph is a story that will be defined by Caruth’s exceptional focus and mature outlook.

“Being a part of the creative culture of young people in DC is cool. I have friends that are in the music and fashion industries, too – Caruth says. Dissimilar to his friends, Caruth’s singular creative passion these days is behind the wheel of a stock car. He’s one of five drivers chosen by NASCAR’s 16-year old, application-based Drive for Diversity Program that develops female and minority drivers and pit crew members in the NASCAR development series. The goal? These are ideally NASCAR’s future stars at the racing industry’s highest levels. Given that Caruth is distinguishing himself at this level because of his skill at iRacing — a subscription-based racing simulation online video game —and there are as many Questions as there are answers about the racing industry’s future.

“Racing online is way more intense than racing in real life,” Caruth says, speaking of the now $150 eSports industry (of which iRacing is an emerging leader), “eSports is huge. NASCAR is putting a lot of interest in it. Its a different way to get people into the sport. I raced on iPacing for a year before applying for Drive for Diversity” He continues, “I want to see more young black racers in NASCAR. People of color in major cities that may not have access to tracks or an idea of how to get behind the wheel.”

In NASCAR’s top-tier Ivionster Energy Cup Series, only eight Black drivers have started and completed races since 1961. Black people also comprise eight percent of NASCAR’s estimated total fan base. The idea that Caruth would be interested in pursuing racing as a career, and then succeed at its highest level — he’s won online with two wins in NASCAR’s eSports racing league’s IGNITE series, plus two real-time victories at 2019’s Bojangles Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway — is a daunting scenario. Regarding his approach to achieving acclaim, Rajah is self-aware and confident. “I’m aware o what I represent as an African-American driver in NASCAR. The fact that I’m into doing this with all of my heart outweighs any other feelings about it.”

Caruth’s support from his family — mother Samantha, father Roger, and sister Liyah — is significant. However, it is the vote of confidence from former Drive for Diversity, now leading Monster Energy Series driver Bubba Wallace, that has added a level of starstruck awe to Rajah’s rise. “It’s cool to lean on Bubba and talk to him often. I’ve been looking up to him for over ten years, so its pretty surreal to be down the garage from him sometimes.: Wallace’s support is notable. In 2018. he became the first African-American to race in the iconic Daytona 500 in 40 years. His second-place finish in that race was the highest finish ever by an African-American in the Daytona 500. Even more significant, it was the highest finish by an African-American in a to NASCAR series in nearly half a century. Caruth is keen on following in those footsteps.

Caruth’s bedroom shelves are filled with die-cast Hot Wheels-style race cars and model-kit versions of top-level NASCAR automobiles. When asked to describe how building and examining the construction of these vehicles enhances his talents, he breaks into — as expected — a detailed conversation about wheel size and how that impacts driver handling. However, when WI Bridge notes that he must be “amazing at physics,” he stops, laughs, and if only for a second, the mature renaissance man melts away. “‘I’m terrible at math. terrible at physics. When the numbers turn into letters, I don’t know what to do.” Ultimately, Rajah Caruth is still a 17-year-old high school senior who loves racing, Vans sneakers. Spiderman. Travi$ Scott, and Jason Aldean. But he hates science class. Given what we’ve learned about the quickly maturing Rajah, one day, he’ll be sure to conquer physics. too.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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