Making your own breaks is a make-or-break proposition in NASCAR.
In a time when even former Sprint Cup Championship teams are struggling for funding Paulie Harraka isn’t just spinning his wheels.
Three years ago my colleague Ed Hinton was writing a paean (for ESPN.com) about the then 19-year old that was burning up the tracks in NASCAR’s Touring Series.
Hinton wrote “if Paulie were a hurricane, he'd be Category 3 and building, projected to be a Cat 5 by the time he makes landfall.”
Harraka, one of NASCAR Drive for Diversity sponsored young talents, proved on the track he was worthy of attention. In 2009 driving in the K&N Pro Series West he had two wins and was named Rookie of the Year finishing fourth in the standings. In 2010 he notched another victory and finished third.
That earned him a ride in Joe Nemechek’s Nationwide Series car in Montreal.
But this year he had just one race at the K & N Pro Series event at Infineon Raceway.
JD Gibbs, the president of JGR, where he interned, sings his praises.
“He’s awesome. He worked at the shop; he’s got a great mind, and, obviously getting into Duke (University). Doing what he’s done is impressive. He has the drive, the passion, for racing those cars. If he gets his opportunity ...” Gibbs said.
That’s the rub.
The problem, as Gibbs sees it, is the wide chasm from the Touring Series to Nationwide. “When you get to the Nationwide or Cup level no one can fund you, you need a sponsor. Costs have escalated over the years.”
Harraka’s Plan B is, in reality, Plan A.
Duke University is like an Ivy-League school of the South.
“I’m not coming to Duke, and was never coming to Duke, as a back-up plan. My decision to come to Duke was predicated on the reality I could leverage my status as a student at Duke to help my racing career,” said Harraka.
This young man with the mind of an older person quickly grasps the concept of it’s not what you know, but, who you know. And Gibbs says he “networks well.”
Duke graduates are the sons and daughters of industry leaders across the country if not globally. “Access to that alumni database,” is what Harraka finds essential to fund his career.
While concentrating on maintaining very good grades his eyes are still on his dream.
“I spend more time in any given day on racing-related stuff than any other point in my life. A driver does need a break. If you get a break great, if you don’t, you make one.”
And he just might do that.