For Halloween in 2009, Rajah Caruth dressed up as a Hendrick Motorsports driver.
14 years later, and a few days removed from Halloween, he’ll get to dress up again to drive for them.
Hendrick Motorsports tabbed Rajah Caruth to drive their No. 17 Chevrolet Camaro this Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.
Caruth first met Rick Hendrick at the 2020 Daytona 500. It was a short interaction but he gave Hendrick a business card.
Caruth and his dad also met with Jeff Gordon, who the young driver impressed.
“The first time I ever met Rajah, he and his dad were at Phoenix in the garage. Just meeting him for the first time, it was like, ‘Wow, this kid seems very professional and very driven, well-spoken. I look forward to watching his career,’ Gordon said.
In the years since Caruth and his dad have had more talks with officials at Hendrick Motorsports and GM.
In August, a deal started coming together. Then, Caruth and Hendrick formally met for the first time at Darlington in September – and had a deal done by the end of the month.
The opportunity not only means a chance to shine and fulfill a childhood dream – but also a chance to focus more on, just, driving.
“Having my stuff taken care of and all the little things, as a driver, you don’t really think about at first when you’re doing it yourself. But when you get to a certain point, people do it for you. So it’s pretty nice. I’m excited for the smaller stuff,” Caruth said.
Caruth is staying cool, even with such a big opportunity. In fact, he doesn’t feel the same pressure or stress he felt before in his first NASCAR starts.
He chalks it up to what he has learned in his first full NASCAR season, with GMS Racing in the Craftsman Truck Series.
“I’d always be on 10 and, honestly, Kansas in the spring was that moment for me to realize like, ‘I’m good.’ Like, when the stuff is driving right and it’s got the pace, I’ll run up front so I don’t need to overstep,” Caruth said.
The Kansas crash was “a big moment” for Caruth. The rest of the year has now been about applying that new style – and it’s paying off. This year, three of his four top-10 finishes have come since the playoffs began, six races ago at IRP.
In that timespan, Caruth is tied with playoff driver Ben Rhodes for the fifth-most points earned by any driver.
Combined with a season of growth in Trucks has been some valuable experience in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
With Alpha Prime Racing, a team still building toward weekly winning speed, Caruth has learned how to get the most out of a car.
“I’ve learned how to do that without overstepping the car and crashing,” Caruth said. “Now that I’ve got that experience, the car that I’ll be in now, we’ll go faster down the straightaway, stop a little better, turn a little bit better and have a bit more grip.”
In such a big race, Caruth doesn’t have an objective definition of success for himself.
“Success comes in the process. That’s success to me because there’s only so much I can control in the fact of winning or losing the race,” Caruth said. “Success is in the process and execution. If I do the things that I know I need to do, there’s no reason why I can’t be contending for a win.”
“We’re looking forward to giving him a good race car and good race team. I’d like to see him go put a solid effort in there and make every lap. I think that’s probably going to be the most important thing first,” Jeff Gordon said.
Phoenix is a one-off race for Rajah Caruth with Hendrick Motorsports. However, Caruth said he hopes to run Trucks full-time and Xfinity part-time in 2024.