WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A majority of NASCAR fans were thrilled to hear that NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin are teaming up to start a NASCAR team in 2021.
The news was even bigger when they announced Bubba Wallace would be their driver.
When Winston-Salem State University freshman Rajah Caruth heard the announcement, he stopped what he was doing.
“I’ve got the notification on my phone and I told my teammate, ‘I’ll be right back.’ It was pretty cool,” Caruth said.
The NASCAR news means a lot to Caruth. His bond to the sport started when he was a little boy.
“Just getting die-cast stuff and cars and Lightning McQueen and seeing races as I got older,” Caruth said.
Caruth’s need for speed led to go-karts, iRacing, and then earning a spot with the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Development Program. The same program that produced Bubba Wallace. He even had a chance to meet Wallace before a NASCAR race. With Wallace joining the Jordan and Hamlin team, Caruth believes NASCAR can bring in a larger, more diverse audience.
“To see him in a competitive vehicle, it will be great for the sport, great for him, and great for everybody,” Caruth said.
When Caruth isn’t racing, he is taking Motorsports Management classes at Winston-Salem State University. Clay Harshaw is an associate professor within the program. He also agreed that the Jordan/Hamlin/Wallace team will bring in more people curious about NASCAR.
“I imagine they will get a greater number of fans coming to watch,” Harshaw said. “Maybe there’s a chance to see Michael Jordan at the track. We will get more folks.”
A high-profile Black car owner and driver could also rev up the Motorsports Management program at Winston-Salem State University.
“I think so. When we first started the program, NASCAR was on the increase, then there was a down period,” Harshaw said. “But after the pandemic, we will see more interest in racing.”
The Motorsports Management program at WSSU started in 2007. Graduates of the program have jobs that range from NASCAR officials to working with companies that are NASCAR sponsors or suppliers. Harshaw pointed out that a member of Joey Logano’s public relations team is a WSSU graduate.
Caruth is looking forward to one day racing at NASCAR’s top level. After a long career, he wants to use his Winston-Salem State University degree to join NASCAR’s front office.