Rajah Caruth’s NASCAR Win a ‘Dream Scenario’ for Gaming Push

Rajah Caruth wasn’t supposed to be in victory lane.

The African-American stock car driver, who won NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series race in Las Vegas last week, grew up in Washington, D.C., secluded from the world of racing. The 21-year-old didn’t have industry connections or strong financial backing. But his passion for simulated racing games has been fruitful in ways he could never have imagined.

More from

“Gaming is one of the main reasons why I started driving, period,” Caruth said during a phone interview. “It was the only way to practice, get exposed and get better. It was essential to my start to driving and is helping me get better to this day.”

Following in the footsteps of William Byron, another successful online driver turned real-life pro driver, Caruth joined the eNASCAR Ignite Series back in 2018, which provided the young iRacer a shot to prove his capabilities beyond virtual racing. Now a senior at Winston-Salem State, his career has been on the rise ever since racing full-time in Spire’s No. 71 Chevy Silverado this year after competing last season for GMS Racing.

His first career win last week in Las Vegas sheds light on the impact iRacing, a racing simulation video game, is having on NASCAR’s talent pipeline. Caruth’s victory has been celebrated by giants in the racing community like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and celebrities such as Kelly Rowland. He’s the latest example of how online racing training can provide a unique access point into the sport, especially for those facing social, economic and geographic barriers.

“It’s a big asset,” said Caruth, who was featured in documentary Outside Line. “For the most part, racing is a Southeastern or Midwest thing, and if you don’t grow up in those areas or have connections, there’s no way to get in. That limits it to a certain demographic of people, but the accessibility of sim racing makes it to where anybody can do it.”

Caruth became just the third black driver to win a NASCAR National Series race, joining Wendell Scott and Bubba Wallace. Both Wallace and Caruth are both former members of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. Caruth’s historic win last week in Las Vegas comes as the program celebrates its 20th anniversary. His success isn’t just a win for NASCAR’s diversity push but also provides reassurance that its gaming gameplan is effective.

“It’s the dream scenario for us,” NASCAR managing director of gaming & esports Nick Rend said in an interview. “It’s about community building, igniting relationships with drivers and keeping fans engaged when they’re not at the racetrack. … These things are really happening because of our strategy, and it’s amazing to see.”

NASCAR’s official simulation partner iRacing has been around since 2008, but its momentum picked up amid the pandemic as NASCAR used virtual races to remain connected to fans when other major pro sports leagues were shut down. After unlocking new ways to drive fan engagement, NASCAR continues to ramp up gaming to not only grow its talent pool but also galvanize new fans.

“Gaming is more accessible now than it’s ever been,” Rend said. “High-speed internet connections and graphic processors required to recreate high-end simulations are all more affordable than they ever been. … For us, it’s fertile ground to cultivate fan interest and ignite [passion] for future stars.”

The promotion’s efforts go beyond the desktop, too, as iRacing recently acquired the necessary NASCAR license to produce a simulation-style console game which will be released next year. In the meantime, Caruth is focusing on the truck season and making it into the Craftsman series playoffs in November, while he polishes his skills online—all in service of eventually jumping up to the elite NASCAR Cup series.

“The goal is to eventually race on Sundays, and I can’t get there without being successful at this level,” he said. “My immediate focus lies on having the best truck season we can and making it to the Final Four.”

Best of