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Winston-Salem State’s Rajah Caruth sees North Wilkesboro Speedway as an ‘important market’ for NASCAR

Rajah Caruth, a student at Winston-Salem State University, prepares to race in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series' Wright Brand 250 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway on Saturday, May 18, 2024.
Mitchell Northam
/
WUNC
Rajah Caruth, a student at Winston-Salem State University, prepares to race in NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series' Wright Brand 250 at the North Wilkesboro Speedway on Saturday, May 18, 2024.

For the majority of Rajah Caruth’s life, the North Wilkesboro Speedway had sat dormant. Between 1997 and 2022, the historic track didn’t host any NASCAR Cup Series races and fell into disrepair — largely abandoned and left for dead.

So, despite the track being one of the closest to Winston-Salem State University, where the 21-year-old Caruth is a junior, he didn’t know much about it. And before last year — after the raceway was revived and renovated, paving the way for NASCAR’s return thanks to funds from the American Rescue Plan Act — Caruth had only ever raced there virtually, through the iRacing simulator that helped him break into the sport.

“I read about it in history books. Not a lot of students know about this place,” Caruth told WUNC on Saturday before hopping into his No. 71 Chevrolet. “It’s pretty damn cool to be here and to be competing today.”

Driving for the Mooresville-based Spire Motorsports, Caruth is now in his second full season of racing in the Craftsman Truck Series, often referred to as the third tier of NASCAR. Last year, he started his race at North Wilkesboro, but failed to finish after an accident.

On Saturday, Caruth was racing strong in the Wright Brand 250, running in second place when lightning and a heavy rainstorm in the area halted the competition at lap 81. When it resumes on Sunday, Caruth will be in a great position to earn his sixth top 10 finish of the season.

“Just trying to have some good luck,” Caruth said. “We’ve had some bad stuff happen the last couple of races, but just hoping we can get our stride going and have a solid race.”

In March, Caruth became just the third Black driver in NASCAR’s history to win a series race when he took the checkered flag at the Victorias Voice Foundation 200 in Las Vegas. The Washington, D.C. native joined Wendell Scott and Bubba Wallace as the only Black drivers to win big at one of NASCAR’s highest levels.

While that victory in Vegas marked a major milestone for Caruth, winning at North Wilkesboro would be incredibly meaningful for him too as a student at Winston-Salem State, which is just 50 miles east of the historic speedway.

“I think this is an important market for the sport,” Caruth said. “If we’re going to keep it here, we should continue to create infrastructure around it, whether it’s with ways to get here or a crossover bridge, or things of that nature. It’s a super important market.”

NASCAR has already announced that its Cup Series All-Star Race and the Craftsman Truck Series will return to North Wilkesboro in 2025. Last September, North Carolina lawmakers earmarked $4 million to go to Speedway Motorsports, LLC — which owns and operates the track in Wilkes County — for more improvements.

“It’s fun to be here,” Caruth said. “And it’s great to be back here for a second year.”

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Mitchell Northam is a Digital Producer for WUNC. His past work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, SB Nation, the Orlando Sentinel and the Associated Press. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and is also a voter in the AP Top 25 poll for women's college basketball.