Camrie Caruso earned Rookie of the Year in the NHRA Pro Stock category. (NHRA photo)

Caruso: From Learning To Drive A ‘Clutch Car’ To Racing NHRA Pro Stock In Two Years

Two years ago, Camrie Caruso was parked at a drag strip in Florida learning how to drive a “clutch car.”

She was strapped into the once-raced, borrowed-for-the-day car with the hope of taking a turn in her drag racing career while her dad, Marc, instructed from the sidelines.

“I was like, ‘We aren’t leaving until I learn how to drive this stupid race car,’” Caruso recalled with a laugh. And they didn’t. “We did burnouts all night long.”

The third-generation racer had already dabbled in several different divisions by the time she took a seat in a door car — including the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League, Super Comp, Top Dragster and Top Alcohol Dragster classes. However, as both her dad and grandfather, “Papa Joe” Caruso, had spent the better part of their lives racing Pro Mod, Caruso initially felt destined to follow in their footsteps. But her dad had other plans.

“My dad was like ‘You’re not racing Pro Mod.’ After he broke his back in one, he was like, ‘Sorry, try again,’” Caruso said. “OK, back to the drawing board.”

That’s the conversation that landed Caruso at the Florida drag strip, considering her options as a Pro Stock driver. Luckily, the challenge of figuring out the throttle and shifting combination had her hooked. In 2021, Caruso entered PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 competition with the intention of moving to the Mountain Motor Pro Stock series the following year.

But last October, when Alex Laughlin announced he was selling his NHRA Pro Stock operation, Caruso had a choice to make.

Follow the original plan, or go Pro Stock racing against the best of the best? She opted for the latter.

“I want to win the championship, I want to qualify No. 1 and I want to win races,” is what Caruso originally told her crew chief, Jim Yates, when the two were introduced last December.

His response: “You need to chill.”

The overeager 23-year-old was nonetheless determined to roll up to the opening round of the NHRA season and prove she was a force to be reckoned with. And after essentially throwing together a team in 60 days with the help of her dad and grandfather, the Pro Stock rookie had no reason to believe results wouldn’t follow.

“When we lost first round in the first race, I literally cried,” Caruso said. “It took me awhile to get it through my head that we had already made strides. It was a whole new ball game. I think that was my biggest disappointment of the entire year.”

Camrie Caruso scored the No. 1 qualifier at Houston Raceway Park earlier this year. (NHRA photo)

Despite her frustration with the defeat, simply qualifying for her first race was a step in the right direction.

It just took several weeks of riding the drag racing roller coaster to realize it.

“You have the highs and then you have the really lows, and then you realize the smallest things make you happy again,” Caruso said. “We had not won first round in three races … and then we won the first round in Seattle and I felt like I had just won the race.”

Caruso emerged triumphant from several rounds over the course of the season, with her first round victory transpiring in her matchup with Christian Cuadra at the NHRA Arizona Nationals in February.

Two months later at Houston Raceway Park, she found herself lining up against Pro Stock legends Greg Anderson and Erica Enders. She laughs as she recalls how nervous she was about battling Anderson.

“I looked at my dad and Jim [Yates] and I was like, ‘Well, better get ready to get freight trained. I can’t beat Greg, guys,’” Caruso said. “And then, we went up there and beat him.”

Caruso’s firm expectations to win rounds and fight for the championship didn’t exactly play out how she imagined, but she finished the season strong with a No. 1 qualifier and a final round appearance to her name. She made the Countdown to the Championship, ending her year 12th in the standings. To top it all off, in November, Caruso earned the rookie-of-the-year award.

“I was excited that I could bring a trophy home for [the team] this year,” Caruso said. “I want to win and make it known that, no matter what, if you work hard enough, you can get there.”

As far as her expectations for next year, Caruso is slightly more relaxed in regard to what she hopes to accomplish.

“You have to have a first year of learning and growing pains and all that, so that leads us into 2023,” Caruso said. “I’m pretty confident that we’ll have a good season and be in the top half, hopefully, every race.”