Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A New Height Awaits Racer Harraka

De-boarding a plane in Houston and racing to catch a tram to board another jet might wear out some travelers and leave others grumpy — but not Paulie Harraka.

The Duke University graduate had a tank full of high-octane adrenaline Monday afternoon as he discussed what could and should be one of the biggest weekends of his young racing life.

For starters, Harraka and team owner Bill McAnally of Roseville are doing their version of getting the band back together. Harraka will race a McAnally car in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway. For seconds, Harraka hopes to take the green flag in his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start Sunday in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

“It’s a huge step forward,” Harraka said. “It really is a cool mix.”

Harraka won 11 Late Model races and the 2008 championship driving for BMR at All American Speedway in Roseville in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. He took three checkered flags for BMR in two years of Pro Series West action. Harraka placed second in Sonoma in 2010 and “led some laps” in 2011 before an issue took the car out of contention.

“We have different objectives on each side, and I believe it will go well,” Harraka said energetically, adding that for Pro Series West, “We have one goal and one goal only, and that’s to win the damn race. All the times I ran at Sonoma for Bill, I always loved that racetrack.”

Harraka will drive the No. 20 Crackle Toyota Camry, which he described as “a bad-ass looking black car with flames,” in the Pro Series West race, and his pit crew will include several former team members from his days with BMR.

His Sprint Cup car will be the No. 52 HASA Pool Products Ford Fusion. Go Green Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire called Harraka with an offer to run the Roush Fenway Racing ride at Sonoma.

“I said, ‘Hell yeah,’ ” Harraka said. “That would be a fun thing to do. We were able to get it together, and here we are.”

Harraka spent the first half of the 2012 season in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series and the second half in the Nationwide Series.

His one Nationwide start this season began with a good run and ended with a fuel line coming loose — “I went into turn 1 at 185 (mph) and smelled smoke, and by the time I got to the exit of turn 2, there was fire,” said Harraka, who will turn to five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and 22-time race winner Denny Hamlin for advice leading up to his Cup debut.

“I have a tremendous amount to learn. That’s a big challenge,” Harraka said. “Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson are good friends of mine. I’m going to lean on them a lot.”

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