As I pressed the shutter button I remembered my first time hearing about Rajah Caruth. Former Howard sports information director Ed Hill told me that Caruth was leading towards attending my alma mater. He asked if I could connect him with someone who could give more insight about the school and its motorsport management program. Eventually, the connection was made. Caruth decided to attend the HBCU, which plays its football games in the birthplace of NASCAR.
I introduced myself to Rajah and his father, Roger. They both had met HBCU Gameday filmmaker Wali Pitt a few days earlier, so I’m sure it was a letdown to meet SJG. But they didn’t let on.
Roger Caruth is a professor at Howard University, in the Cathy Hughes School of Communications. In addition to teaching at an HBCU, he’s also an alumnus. The Clark Atlanta graduate also served as the school’s SID, so he’s HBCU verified.
The elder Caruth is present and involved, but not overbearing. He helps out when needed, but doesn’t look to get in the way. He lets Crew Chief Johnny Allen and Car Chief Keith Young do what they do to help mold his son into the best driver he can be.
When it comes to branding, though, Roger Caruth knows his son has infinite potential.
For such a time as this
There have always been black NASCAR/racing fans. But they haven’t always felt welcome due to elements of the culture associated with sport. But that could be changing.
NASCAR has focused its efforts on increasing diversity through its “Drive For Diversity” program in recent years. Caruth joined Rev Racing through his involvement with the youth division of the program. Just this year it banned the confederate flag from its events and Wallace, Rajah’s hero, drove a car with “Black Lives Matter” painted on the side.
All of this means that there has never been a better time to be an up-and-coming young African-American driver than the present. Roger Caruth knows it. And he wants his son to know it.
“I want him to start thinking like an NBA player,” he tells me.
Right now he’s more Gen Z than NBA. After getting his coaching and making sure his car is ready for the next race, Rajah hops on his phone and checks out how Wallace finished in Michigan. He converses with me with AirPods in his ears while eating a bowl of noodles. I could’ve asked him what he was listening to, but that would have only reminded me I was in tenth grade when this freshman was born, so I spared myself.
In between races, I chat with Rajah about the impending school year. His father has told me he’s staying off-campus so he can stay close to the team and to the track. I tell him that once the yard starts poppin’ and he loses hours sitting in the breezeway, he’s gonna be wishing he was a little bit closer to campus.
He chuckles. I laugh. Millennial and Gen Z Rams unite.