[media-credit id=62 align=”alignright” width=”223″][/media-credit]In spite of being just 22 years old, Paulie Harraka is already wearing many hats, including graduate, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver of the No. 5 Wauters Motorsports Ford, and entrepreneur.
One of Harraka’s most prized hats to wear is that of graduate, recently completing his walk for his college diploma from Duke. Harraka graduated with a double major in marketing management and sociology and a minor in history.
“It’s amazing that it’s over,” Harraka said. “When you’re a freshman, it seems so far away.”
“Four years just go by,” Harraka continued. “I look back and I got to do so much that I took advantage of. It’s been awesome.”
“It’s exciting not to have to write papers and to not have to take exams anymore,” Harraka said. “But at the same time, I miss not living with all my closest friends within a quarter of a mile.”
Now that he has had a chance to reflect on his college career, Harraka said that he learned so many lessons. In fact, there were so many, yet each and every one has made him the driver that he is today.
“So much of what I did at Duke was about supporting my racing career and augmented what I do at the race track, whether that was networking with Duke alumni or leadership classes or marketing classes,” Harraka said. “There is no question that I would not be here right now without my Duke education.”
Although Harraka had a double major, as well as a minor, he selected his college course with just one thing in mind, how they would impact his racing career.
“Racing was really my focus at Duke,” Harraka said. “I took engineering classes, leadership classes, business classes, marketing classes and anything that would help me at track.”
“If you looked at my Duke transcript not knowing that I race, you would think that’s a pretty random grouping of classes that don’t go together,” Harraka continued. “But understanding that they fit together into a racing context, it all makes sense.”
As a race truck driver, Harraka is wearing another hat, that of debutante at Dover International Speedway, known as the ‘Monster Mile.’ And while he is looking forward to it, he acknowledged that the track is indeed a bit monstrous.
“This is a tough place,” Harraka said. “Dover is different. You drive right off the straightaway and down into the corner and it’s like a three story drop.”
“Matt Crafton described it as the best roller coaster ride you’ll ever have and I definitely understand what he means,” Harraka said. “It’s big. It’s fast. It’s a lot of fun, but it will be a challenge with 30 plus other trucks.”
Harraka may be making his debut at Dover, but his Truck is sporting sponsorship from Phoenix International Raceway. Because of a close relationship between the PIR track president and Harraka, the two decided to do a special promotion for the Phoenix fall race.
“Today is June 1st and the day that the tickets go on sale for the Phoenix fall race,” Harraka said. “So, they wanted to do a promotion around the first day of their ticket sales.”
“Anyone that buys their tickets online or by calling today or this month gets a discount,” Harraka said. Second, anybody that tweets #GoPaulie during the race gets entered into a drawing and if we win, they get a whole package at the track.”
While Harraka has Phoenix Raceway on the car, the Truck race driver is also sporting the familiar puzzle piece for the charity Autism Speaks for his Dover debut, calling awareness to the full spectrum of the disease which affects so many.
“What Dover does with the whole weekend is great because they tie in Autism Speaks to the entire weekend,” Harraka said. “Everybody has met someone or has a friend or family member with autism.”
“To be a part of that, in a micro way, is cool.”
Harraka’s final hat, but probably one of the most important, is that of entrepreneur. And that hat is most critical as it is the basis for funding for his racing career.
“A number of the investors will be at the race, which I’m excited about,” Harraka said. “That part of the business is going really well and I’m excited about that.”
“A number of our investors have really become engaged in coming to a number of the races,” Harraka continued. “Our Executive Chairman, this will be his fourth race this year.”
“We’re bringing this whole group of people as NASCAR fans that in the past have never had a connection to the sport,” Harraka said. “They are interested in getting involved both in my racing career and helping us improve our whole program.”
“They’re not just silent cash,” Harraka continued. “They are people that are not intrusive or invasive but want to help however they can.”
Harraka acknowledges that his business model may just be working a bit better than his on-track performance. And in many ways, he might just be the Jeff Gordon of the Truck Series, having just as much bad luck as the four-time champion.
“At some point performance will affect the business model,” Harraka said. “But, we’re still moving forward and improving and as long as we are, we’ll be in good shape.”
“Some of it’s been bad luck but some of it’s been self-inflicted,” Harraka acknowledged. “Some of it is situations that we’ve been put in, but at Charlotte, I screwed up.”
“It happens,” Harraka said. “It’s the beginning of the season. It’s a new race team with a rookie driver. It’s a lot of things we need to work through.”
“The worst thing you can do is to just put your head down,” Harraka continued. “You’ve got to keep your head up and look at what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Eventually, we’ll fix all the problems and have a good day.”
One other hat that the young driver is wearing is that of perpetual learner.
“You just got to keep learning,” Harraka said. “I was pulling in to the track and my phone rang and it’s Ricky Rudd, who has been a long-time mentor of mine.”
“So, we start chatting and he said that he just wanted to remind me of something,” Harraka continued. “And he reads down the list of Sprint Cup drivers and how many cars they wrecked at the beginning of their careers.”
“And the moral of the story is that Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch topped that list,” Harraka said. “So, he said that is what I needed to think about and work on.”
The last hat that Harraka is wearing at the Monster Mile is that of hometown hero. In fact, a whole busload of family and friends are heading from Wayne, New Jersey to Dover, Delaware to watch their boy make his debut.
“I have friends and family that are coming down,” Harraka said. “In fact, a whole busload with Paulie T-shirts will be filling the front stretch.”