New Jersey is not known as a hot bed for up and coming NASCAR drivers. In fact, the state has only produced one Sprint Cup level driver: Martin Truex, Jr., who is from south Jersey.
But move over, Martin, there is a new young gun in town and he is definitely on his way up in the racing world. This rising star is 19-year-old Paul "Paulie" Harraka, hailing from Wayne, New Jersey. That's northern New Jersey, for folks unfamiliar with the small but mighty state.
Today, Paulie will be competing in the finale of NASCAR's Camping World West series. He and NASCAR's other future superstars, including Eric Holmes and Jason Bowles, will be competing at the All American Speedway in Roseville, California in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by Thunder Valley.
Just a few weeks ago, Harraka won the 2008 Late Model championship in the Whelan All America Series, also staged in Roseville. Last year, this young driver finished second in the NASCAR Track Championship points race.
Harraka, who is of Syrian descent, has also participated in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity Program. He was honored as rookie and driver of the year in this NASCAR-supported program, encouraging drivers of different cultures and ethnicities to excel in the sport.
Does Harraka sound like one busy young man? Well, it gets better. This fall, Paulie entered the hallowed halls of Duke University as a full-time freshman. His classes include Economics 51, Engineering 53, Math 103, and History 111.
While most drivers find it challenging to manage their full-time racing careers, Harraka is undertaking the unique challenge of balancing that will his full-time college studies. If he succeeds, he will emulate Cup driver Ryan Newman, the only current NASCAR Cup driver with a college degree.
As Paulie tells Star Ledger reporter Charlie Vallely, "If you are passionate about something, you find a way to get it done." This young driver must be passionate to balance his passion for racing, academics, and rooting for his beloved Blue Devils.
Paulie is hoping to race several races in the 2009 Truck series season. He will be one to watch, in whatever series he is racing.
Paul Harraka—you are doing New Jersey proud.
Photo Caption: Teenager Paul Harraka, speaking with former Sprint Cup driver Wendell Scott earlier this month, is not only a budding NASCAR star but also a full-time student at Duke University.
Photo Credit: Jim R. Bounds, Associated Press.