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March 7, 2024

Rajah Caruth’s win highlights why ‘representation is so important’

The media tour Rajah Caruth took on Monday was exhausting. Some of it included travel. Most of it included hours of teleconferences staring at a webcam.

All of it celebrated one thing: Caruth’s first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win, which came Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Such a heavy media tour after winning the third Truck Series race of 2024 would have been unusual had it not been for the context of Caruth’s victory. He became the third Black driver to win a race in a NASCAR national series. Between the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series, only 10 times has a Black driver gone to Victory Lane: once for Wendell Scott, eight times for Bubba Wallace and now once for Caruth.

MORE: Recap Caruth’s breakthrough night in Vegas

Showcasing history is critical. But so is highlighting opportunity. Therein lies the importance of representation in NASCAR across all platforms.

Caruth — known within the garage area as one of the sport’s hardest-working drivers — captured a convincing win on a standard 1.5-mile oval after executing a flawless green-flag pit cycle and led 38 laps in the process. He then climbed out of the truck and was interviewed by FOX Sports’ Josh Sims, a reporter ingrained in NASCAR since 2015 and who became the first Black pit reporter to cover the sport on a nationally televised broadcast when he joined FOX Sports in 2021.

That visual of two Black men in prominent NASCAR positions on a national broadcast — one a winning driver, the other a reporter — was one that simply had not been seen before.

“First of all, it’s funny to hear it because I have goosebumps after you put it that way,” Sims said in a teleconference with “And it’s not like I wasn’t aware of it — because I very, very much was after it happened. I mean, you look no further than Twitter right away. The amount of people that said that image was powerful, that’s what my timeline was filled with, you know? I knew the magnitude of the moment for Rajah, and in the back of my mind, I thought about the fact that I’m going to be the one out there, and this is going to be a big moment visually.

“At the same time, I want to make sure that, to a certain degree, you stick the landing. You ask the important questions, and you make sure you give Rajah his moment to let everybody know what it means to him. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was excited that it was me that got to be out there with him. Because it really is a cool moment.”

With less representation, particularly in such a public setting, there is less chance a young person of color can envision themselves in either Caruth’s or Sims’ shoes. That door is opening now.

“I think it’s a really big deal,” Caruth told of the interview with Sims. “Being involved, I can’t really see from a bird’s eye view how it makes waves, but I certainly hope that it helps because representation is so important. I think it’ll be cool when (Xfinity Series driver) Hailie (Deegan) wins her first race, if it’s Kim (Coon), if it’s Heather DeBeaux or someone like that. I feel like equally, that’ll be cool as well.”

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Ultimately, Caruth sees the bigger picture in the aftermath of his moment. The stars of NASCAR are changing, thanks in part to the aforementioned Drive for Diversity program. In the program’s 20th anniversary, four of nine national series races this year have been won by program alumni: Nick Sanchez in the Daytona Truck race; Daniel Suárez in the Atlanta Cup race; Caruth at Vegas; and Kyle Larson in the Vegas Cup race.

So, where is the sport evolving?

RELATED: Learn about NASCAR Drive for Diversity program

“Hopefully to the point where the headlines aren’t that it was another Black driver or Hispanic driver, right?” Caruth said. “It’s just, ‘This person won.’ That’s the goal, to have it be as representative of the country as any other sport. That’s the way I see it. We’re doing the right things and just gotta keep it up.”

Indeed, in many respects, the sport has looked this way for some time now. Caruth described being a young NASCAR fan in Washington, D.C., as “isolation” being the only kid at school that knew anything about the sport. Growing up in East Brunswick, New Jersey, Sims never had NASCAR on his radar as a kid. But going to the track as an adult changed Sims’ perspective.

Rajah Caruth celebrates in Victory Lane.
Alejandro Alvarez |

“I started really covering the sport in 2015 when I moved to Charlotte,” Sims said. “The one thing I noticed is there already was a lot of diversity at the track. I just wasn’t aware of it because I wasn’t at the track on a week-in and week-out basis. But from the pit crew to a lot of people that work behind the scenes, there are a lot of faces of color, there are a lot more women that work in the sport that you wouldn’t really know about unless you were there.”

That point further emphasizes the importance of storytelling through coverage, Sims said, and the need to highlight those diverse characters in a more public light so people understand their stories, their backgrounds and how hard they’ve worked to achieve success in such competitive fields regardless of skin color.

“That’s why when Rajah is leading towards the end of the race, it’s important to highlight how he got there,” Sims said. “That this is a young man that came from iRacing, similar to a William Byron. So then you draw that comparison with someone else that’s made it to the top of the sport. None of this has anything to do with what he looks like or where he came from or anything like that. It has to do with his journey.”

RELATED: Caruth’s timeline from eNASCAR to Xfinity debut

His journey through eSports and gaming further proves representation isn’t just about how Caruth looks either. Being a significant member of the flourishing and substantial iRacing community connects Caruth to racing enthusiasts who first got their speed fix virtually.

Perhaps no sport can provide a better pathway from virtual to real-world than NASCAR, which now has seen Caruth and Byron, the Hendrick Motorsports superstar, claim early-season wins.

Before he was a Daytona 500 champion and Cup Series prodigy, Byron was an all-world iRacing driver. Similarly, Caruth’s first opportunity with a steering wheel in his hand came in the iRacing community. While these two are among the first eSports racers to break through, they won’t be the last.

“It’s not easy, right?” Caruth said. “If you think you’re just going to wake up and it’s going to be in front of you, it’s not. You’ve got to put in the work and listen — emphasis on ‘listen’ because I think about my first years racing on iRacing, learning how to be fast on there, making a lot of mistakes. Honestly, it was kind of the same when I started in real life. I just listened to people that wanted to help me. I put in the work, late nights, early mornings, showing up. I caught some breaks, for sure.

“I tell those kids — because I know there’s a lot out there that are in similar spots than me — y’all can do it. You just got to put in the work, pay attention, just do the right thing, and it will work out.”

As he continues to pursue a career in NASCAR, race will always be a part of Caruth’s story — but perhaps never more than racing itself.

“It’s a part of me, and I honor it and I cherish it and it’s a part of my personality. It’s how I grew up,” Caruth said on this week’s episode of “Stacking Pennies” with Corey LaJoie. “At the same time, it’s not a character trait. It is a little — I don’t want to say pressure because the ultimate pressure is to perform and do the best that you can and do the things during the week to be the best race car driver on Fridays and Saturdays. But honestly, I think about that all the time because I know the amount of people that are watching me.

“And honestly I take that as a feather in my cap sometimes. Because if I do good, I can really help the sport. … I know if I do good in NASCAR, I can help the sport so much because the people that I grew up with and a lot of my friends in that world, this is a completely different industry for them, so I know I can just help a lot.”