New Jersey native and nineteen year old Paulie Harraka made history this weekend. Harraka made history for himself, securing his first career win in the NASCAR Camping World West Series at Colorado National Speedway.
Harraka also made history for the Drive for Diversity (D4D) program, scoring the first win for the program in the West Series. Harraka is participating in the D4D program due to his Syrian descent.
The win was the first in the West series for Mike Curb, the registered owner of Harraka's car. With his win, Harraka also secured a place in history with a berth in the Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale, California, the "Daytona 500" of the Camping World East and West Series.
Harraka's win was also historic as it came smack dab in the home territory of the primary sponsor of his Bill McAnally Racing car. NAPA not only sponsors Harraka, but also sponsored the race that Harraka won, the Toyota/NAPA 150.
"To move up the ranks with Bill McAnally and the Drive for Diversity program and to bring NAPA a win in front of the home town crowd is awesome," rookie Harraka said. "We weren't the best car at any one point, but we were the best car for the 150 laps."
"I got to the track Friday afternoon," said Harraka, "and did an appearance at a Toyota dealership." NAPA also has their western division headquarters located about a half an hour from the track, so Harraka participated in their hospitality events, involving over 100 NAPA associates, on Friday evening.
"I was able to give ride-a-longs to about 30 NAPA people," Harraka said. He admitted that while he did not hurt anyone on the ride-a-longs, he "did scare a few people."
All in all, though, Harraka confessed that having the NAPA and Toyota supporters at the track "was a cool way to start off the weekend."
"We unloaded and had a really good car," affirmed Harraka. The car was so good that it just required minor tweaks throughout the practice session.
Although Harraka did not expect it, he also had a great qualifying run, earning the outside pole next to his teammate Eric Holmes, for an all NAPA front row to start the race.
For the first 75 laps of the race, Harraka was content to follow in teammate and pole sitter Holmes' tracks, allowing him to lead the race. At the halfway mark, however, several other racers took the high line and Harraka got shuffled back to the fourth position.
By lap 109, Harraka had marched his way back into the lead and opened up a ten car lead. "We just settled in there at that pace," said Harraka.
But there was one more hurdle for Harraka to overcome before taking the checkered flag. Jim Warn mounted a late race charge and "started running me down," Harraka said. "I opened it up to 100% and I was running as hard as I could."
"Jim got to my bumper at the very end but couldn't do anything with me," summarized Harraka. "So, we won and it was a lot of fun."
Harraka said that he celebrated by doing "some huge burnouts and donuts" at the start/finish line as well as in Turn 2, where over 1,500 NAPA associates were cheering on his victory.
In talking about the win, Harraka said with a sigh of relief, "It's big. To win, it is a huge step forward in my career and in my climb up the ladder."
Harraka's win moved him and his team up to the fourth position in the points standings. While Harraka admits to being out of contention for the championship, his goal has always been to be in the top three in points, which is still very much within his sights.
Harraka is also the leading contender for the Rookie of the Year honors in the West series.
He is, however, most proud of securing the first West series win for the D4D program, demonstrating that the program indeed works and is successful in propelling the careers of diverse drivers forward in NASCAR.
With two more races left in the West series, one at Iowa and the final race at All American Speedway, Harraka is determined to win both races. With his record at both tracks, he does indeed have a chance to reach all of his goals for the 2009 season.
"We can definitely win these last two races," Harraka advised. "We finished second out of the West series cars at Iowa in the East/West Combo race in the spring."
Harraka is equally confident at the All American Speedway, which he considers his "home track." At this past spring's race, Harraka qualified second and finished third.
As is almost every racer, Harraka is seeking sponsorship to go the the Showdown at Irwindale Speedway in January 2010 and to compete in the full West series next year. He is planning to race again next year for Bill McAnally Racing and to contend for the West series championship.
Until then, Harraka is keeping himself busy off the track as well. He will be moving into his dorm room at Duke University this weekend to begin his sophomore year of college.
Yet in between his busy schedule of racing and his college courses, Harraka is doing the one thing that he enjoys most. He is spending time with a charity, ChildHelp, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping abused, neglected and at-risk children.
On his way to college, Harraka will be stopping off for the day at one of ChildHelp villages in Virginia. He plans to learn more about how he can help the organziation in their advocacy, prevention, treatment and community outreach efforts to help children.
"I'm really excited about that," confided Harraka.
Harraka then summed it all up saying, "It was an exciting race to start a really exciting week."
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