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Paulie Harraka ended the 2009 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West about as perfectly as a driver could. He won two of the last three races of the season, including the season finale at All American Speedway in Roseville in dominating fashion. He won the pole and led all but one of the 150 laps.
The 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West opens at All American Speedway on Saturday night (March 27), a fitting and welcome site for Harraka, a driver from Wayne, N.J. The NASCAR gods are certainly smiling on Harraka, who is entering his second full season in the West Series and has emerged as a contender for the West Series championship. Harraka, however, isn’t quite so sure they're in his favor.
|BMR in 2009|
|April 4||All American Speedway|
|Sept. 26||All American Speedway|
During the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale in January, Harraka’s car lost a cylinder at the beginning of the race and he had to fight for a top-10 finish.
“I’ll tell you what, they rained on us at Irwindale,” said Harraka, the 2009 West Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year. “Hopefully we’ve shaken our bad luck for the year and won’t have to worry about it. We were able to salvage a top 10 finish and come home in ninth, but man, I’ve never driven so hard for ninth in my life.”
Time will tell if the Toyota All-Star Showdown was a bad omen or a fluke. All other indications point toward a break out year for Harraka. He finished the 2009 with about as much momentum as a driver could muster. He is racing for one of the most successful teams, Bill McAnally Racing, in the history of the West Series. He has a West Series champion, Eric Holmes, for a teammate.
“Eric’s a great mentor for Paulie,” said Bill McAnally, the owner of a three-car team in the West Series. “Paulie and Eric would talk quite a bit. With a three-team operation, we try to race the competition and not wear each other out.”
McAnally paints an almost perfect relationship between Harraka and Holmes. If they weren’t arguably the two best drivers in the West Series, that would be an accurate portrayal. In actuality, the two drivers get along perfectly well, but chatty is hardly a word that describes them. When they are both running well, they don’t talk much to each other.
“Eric and I are friends. We get along great. I really like Eric,” said Harraka, who finished fourth in the West Series standings in 2009. “When Eric and I are running pretty good, we tend not to talk that much. It’s a testament to race teams Bill’s built. We got a lot of good race teams. Eric is probably the guy. If I have to pick any one guy that I need to beat that week, if I beat Eric, chances are I’ll beat everybody else as well.”
Harraka points to the West Series race at Colorado National Speedway last year as an example of how competitive he and Holmes can be. Holmes won the pole and Harraka started second. It was clear the two drivers had the best cars for the race. Holmes led the first 81 laps of the race, but fell back toward the end. Harraka took over the lead on lap 109 and didn’t surrender it, winning the first West Series race of his career. Harraka envisions more races like the one in Colorado in 2010.
When the two drivers converge on All American Speedway, it’s a safe bet they won’t be talking too much to each other. While Harraka won the season finale in Roseville, Holmes won the season opener in 2009.
Despite limited experience in the West Series, Harraka has a pretty impressive record at All American Speedway. He won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model championship at the track in Roseville in 2008 and was the rookie of the year in the Late Models in 2007. Winning a West Series race at Roseville added to his success at the track.
“It was cool to win in front of that crowd,” Harraka said.
McAnally said Harraka races at All American Speedway with a different confidence level. Starting the season there should give his young driver an added boost.
“He’s been paying his dues. He needed experience,” McAnally said. “What a better way to start it off. We couldn’t ask for a better track to start the season off at.”
Harraka enters the West Series season with one goal in mind: to win a championship. But he does have bigger goals in mind, perhaps a chance to race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2011.
“I don’t want to stray the focus too much,” Harraka said. “If I can continue to win races and go out and win a championship this year, then I’ll get better and hopefully continue to climb. Right now, the West Series is definitely the priority, but I do keep in mind that I do want to move up.”