“Fuggedabout” Cup driver Martin Truex, Jr. and his baby brother, K&N East Series Champion Ryan. There is a new Jersey boy in town and his name is Paulie Harraka, K & N Pro Series West ace and now officially a Nationwide driver based on his debut at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last weekend.
Harraka, 20 year old native of Wayne, New Jersey, officially took the next step in his NASCAR career by running his first race on the famous road course north of the border. Harraka drove the No. 87 Nationwide car for NEMCO Motorsports, along with owner and race teammate Joe Nemechek.
According to Harraka, his deal came together when Joe Nemechek spotted him at Infineon Raceway, where both the West and Cup Series were running together. Harraka came in second in the West race at that track, solidifying Nemechek’s interest in the up and coming Jersey boy.
“That’s when Joe and I started talking,” Harraka said.
Harraka also took another important step in his rise up the ladder by snagging a sponsor for his Nationwide debut. In a deal that came together very quickly, the week before the race to be exact, Exide came on board Harraka’s car to sponsor the young driver.
Unfortunately, Harraka did not have the run he had hoped for in his inaugural introduction to the next level of racing in the Nationwide Series. Both he and owner Nemechek were involved in an early wreck, relegating Harraka to a 29th place finish.
“It was frustrating, you know,” Harraka said. “At the beginning of the race you have to be patiently aggressive, aggressive enough to be ahead of the wrecks when they happen and patient enough not to cause the wreck. I guess I was a little bit too patient.”
“Somebody got into Nemechek and spun him and by the time I got there, the entire race track was blocked,” Harraka continued. “Not an inch of racetrack was left for me to use. There was nothing for me to do at that point.”
“Unfortunately, we got the radiator and some other stuff and had to spend a fair amount of time in the garage, cutting pieces off to get back out there and score some points,” Harraka said. “And we did that, we finished and ended up 29th so overall it wasn’t terrible. It was just frustrating.”
In spite of the tough finish, Harraka thoroughly enjoyed his time on the road course in Montreal, including its unique challenges.
“Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is a ton of fun to run at,” Harraka said. “It’s a cool place and Montreal is a great city.”
“The race track is cool but it’s different than any other race tracks we run on,” Harraka noted. “It’s very narrow and the wall surrounding it is very narrow, with very little run off. So, if there’s a wreck you can’t just drive around it by virtue of it being narrow.”
“With all the foliage around the track, I had four different spotters,” Harraka said. “And even with that, I didn’t have a spotter that could see the entire race track. It makes for difficult situations and unfortunately our Exide car got caught up in one of them.”
Harraka had no time to be disappointed as shortly after leaving the track at Montreal he was headed back to Jersey to change, shower and catch a flight back to Duke University, where he was set to start his classes and his junior year.
“It’s not easy,” Harraka said about being a full-time student as well as a race car driver. “But I can do both. I can handle the schedule.”
If there is one thing that the young driver does get from his home state, it is that Jersey brashness and confidence. Harraka absolutely believes that he is meant to continue advancing up in NASCAR and has the boldness and belief in himself to do just that.
Harraka’s confidence and attitude are also evident in NASCAR’s newest show, Changing Lanes, about young racers of diverse backgrounds who are competing in the Drive for Diversity program. The show airing on BET spotlights 30 young drivers, including Harraka who is of Syrian descent, competing for shots at their NASCAR dreams.
Although Harraka has grown up in that program, spending four years under the D4D tutelage, he has now “graduated” and has moved on with his career based on his own networking and contacts.
As for his plans for the future now that he has a Nationwide start under his belt, Harraka acknowledged that it was all a work in progress.
“We’re working on some stuff,” Harraka said. “We don’t have any firm plans at present but we’re certainly working really hard to see what we can put together.”
Until that time when things do come together for the young Jersey boy, Harraka will continue to race for the K & N Pro Series West Championship, where he sits in the third position with just three more races to go in the season.
“We’re looking forward to the next few races, especially the next two,” Harraka said of his West Series run. “At Miller Motorsports Park, we finished second and Roseville (All American Speedway) we won last year.”
“We’re still pushing for the championship,” Harraka said. “We need to do very, very well and have some other guys have some bad luck. But winning the championship is still our goal.”
“I think for sure that’s the goal,” said Harraka of his bid to be the next NASCAR Jersey boy. “We’re working hard at it and things are falling in place.”