West Series Rookie Paul Harraka Caps Off Season With Dominant Win

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2009

With a dominant performance, Camping World Series West rookie Paul Harraka led all but one lap to take the checkered flag in the season finale at the All American Speedway in Roseville, California.  With the win, Harraka finished fourth place in the point's standings for the season, behind champion Jason Bowles.

Harraka, a native New Jerseyan and sophomore at Duke University, actually considers the All American Speedway as his "home track."  Last year, he won a track championship there in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Division.

This win is the second in three races for Harraka, who drives for Bill McAnally Racing.  Harraka, who is of Syrian descent, is one of the breakout stars for NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program.

Harraka started his weekend with a car that, in his words, was "just OK."  Harraka said that when they unloaded, they "had a good car, but not a fantastic car."

"We made a lot of big changes," Harraka said.  "The team made changes all throughout the day, including in between practices."

"We got the car to where I was pretty happy with it."

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Although the car was better, Harraka was still not sure how the car would qualify.  He was even more unsure after watching championship leader Jason Bowles go out for his run and lay down a good lap.

"I ran my lap and I said you know guys, it felt good but it didn't feel great," Harraka said.  "I'd be surprised if that's a pole winning lap."

Much to Harraka's surprise, however, he did outperform Bowles to secure the pole position.  That made him even more excited for the race, knowing that his car was "that good."

When the green flag flew, Harraka got an early start and jumped out into the lead.  He ran just hard enough to hold the lead, but not too hard, in order to preserve his car for the rest of the race.

"I did not want to use up my race car," Harraka said.

In spite of his concern for his car, Harraka continued to lead up to the halfway point of the Toyota/Copart 150.  His car remained strong throughout the rest of the race, including the final green flag run with 25 laps to go.

"I was running about 60 percent to 70 percent," Harraka said.  "I was able to stretch out to an almost two second lead because I had saved so much over the course of the race."

"The car was great."

Harraka was also pleased to have such a dominant run in front of the All American Speedway fans. 

"The Northeast is home," Harraka said, "but I've run in the neighborhood of 50 races at All American Speedway.  So to bring home a win there in front of that crowd in that series was really nice."

Harraka admitted that the track just suits his driving style, especially since he can move around, be flexible, and find the best line on the track for his car.  "It's the kind of race track I like," Harraka said.

With the season finale in the books, Harraka stated that he had accomplished most of what he had set out to do in his rookie season in the Camping World Series West.  While he had wanted to finish third in points, he secured the fourth spot instead, a "solid run" for his team.

Harraka also won two races in the season and secured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title.  "On the whole, it was a good season," Harraka said.  "It was a great season."

Harraka acknowledged that the best compliment to his season was having Bill McAnally Racing extend the invitation to come back and race for the upcoming 2010 season.  Harraka said that his crew members want to continue with him next year, so that made him feel that he "did an OK job."

Since 2010 plans are not finalized completely yet, Harraka will participate again in the Drive for Diversity combine coming up in late October.  This is an invitation-only tryout session for the Drive for Diversity program, where Harraka is eligible to audition for another season.

"We'll see how that all shakes out," Harraka said.  "I haven't made any decisions for next year yet."

"I certainly do want to go back and chase the West Series championship for Bill McAnally Racing though."

Harraka is also looking for sponsorship to go to the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway on Jan. 29th - 30th, 2010.  The top finishers in both the Camping World Series East and West divisions participate for "bragging rights" to determine the best driver of both series for the year.

With the final race under his belt, Harraka can now turn his focus for the remainder of this year to his college studies.  In fact, the college sophomore was off to study for an Arabic exam at the conclusion of this interview.

"School and classes are busy," Harraka said.  "It's just the typical life for a student at Duke."

The top 10 finishers in the final NASCAR Camping World Series West race were:

1.   Paul Harraka

2.   Eric Schmidt

3.   Greg Pursley

4.   Jason Bowles

5.   Moses Smith

6.   Brett Thompson

7.   Jim Warn

8.   Chris Johnson

9.  Jim Inglebright

10.  Martin McKeefery

The top five in the championship points standings were:

1.   Jason Bowles

2.   Eric Holmes

3.   Greg Pursley

4.   Paul Harraka

5.   Brett Thompson

Photo Credit:  Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for NASCAR.