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In the Driver’s Seat with Ray Black Jr.

It’s not very often that one gets to live out their dreams and consider that to be their outlet.  In rare cases, there are those who get to realize their passions and channel that to the masses in the most unique style like 25-year-old Ray Black Jr. of Palm Coast, FL.

This young racer’s NASCAR origins resonates with some fans who may have learned about the sport by watching a telecast and simply getting hooked to the sport in an instant.  For Black, the racing bug bit him when he was just 14. With a bit of convincing, the road to stock car racing would be paved but not without some choppy seas, an environment that this Floridian would know a thing or two about.

Like fellow NASCAR XFINITY Series racer Ross Chastain, Black has combined his passions into one of his favorite outlets.  In this case, he’s merged his love of scuba diving with motorsports which is prominently featured on the unmistakable red and white No. 07 Chevrolet Camaro fielded by SS Green Light Racing.

Perhaps the thrills and excitement with scuba diving is an asset for Black when it comes to close quarter racing in he XFINITY Series.  Racers like Black compete as intensely as possible to make a name for themselves while perfecting that balance between aggression and patience to advance up the NASCAR ladder.  Along the way, there’s also those races in which they’re battling against Sprint Cup veterans which serve as great learning opportunities for the young racers to pick up on which lines work best at certain venues.

Black understands and appreciates what it means to race in this division as well as for his team.  They’ve battled on the track since 2014 when they were competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.  Along the way, they’ve scored an impressive top-five in last year’s season opener for the Truck Series at Daytona while earning respect and experience with their transition up to the XFINITY Series.

If Black has found success with his racing efforts and with scuba diving, it’s safe to say that this young man will also embrace social media like his fellow NASCAR peers.  Until then, he’s focused on constantly striving towards improving his results week in and week out.

From the moment that racecar is unloaded from the hauler to the cool down lap after a hard day’s work, Black is focused on the big picture and bettering himself as well as his hardy race team.  Much as the late T. Wayne Robertson advised former NASCAR racer Jimmy Spencer, “Sometimes, in order to go faster, you have to go a little slower.”  Building on each race weekend is how this team will build their promising effort into a perennial front runner in NASCAR.

We caught up with Black during the NASCAR race weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway prior to first practice for the Auto Lotto 200.  During that race weekend in which Black and his No. 07 team scored a respectable 21st place finish, there was a sense of optimism and excitement that was embraced with this entire racing effort.

Clearly, this is a group that’s on the rise.  It won’t be too long before this bunch becomes constant contenders in the XFINITY Series.  There’s a strong sense of camaraderie with Black and his team and it shows throughout this interview.

Right now, it’s about getting “In the Driver’s Seat with Ray Black Jr.” and perhaps getting some scuba diving gear ready!  Just try not to have too much candy along the way.  For now, let’s talk racing!

Rob Tiongson :  Your introduction to racing story is one that most people could relate to but for those learning about you for the first time, talk a bit about that and how you got into this sport growing up.

From race fan to racing at Daytona, Ray Black Jr. is realizing his dream! (Photo Credit: Team Scuba)

From race fan to racing at Daytona, Ray Black Jr. is realizing his dream! (Photo Credit: Team Scuba)

Ray Black Jr. :  It was pretty simple how I got started.  I just watched it on TV like a lot of kids my age were doing.  I just had that feeling that I wanted to go fast a lot.  When I’d go around the yard with a tractor, I just wanted to go fast.  I tried to get dad involved in it.  It took a while to convince him and eventually, he brought me down to a local track to check things out.

When I turned 14, we went out and bought a car.  We brought it down to Florida and did some races.  It was hard getting the hang of it – we had a lot of wrecks, but it was worth it and it was fun.  It was cool.  It was a good experience when you’re 14.

RT :  That’s somewhat of a “later” start compared to most drivers as they typically start around age 5 or 6.  I understand that you did some video game driving.  From the standpoint of the fans, how much does it help you as a racecar driver to prepare for places like Loudon and Indy?

RB :  Video games have been a big part of my life, man.  I played them when I was younger, or pretty much as long as I can remember.  I played NASCAR video games when I was 14.  Being around it was cool.  We got iRacing this past year and it’s helped me out a whole bunch at a lot of these tracks with the visual references and things like that.

It definitely plays a role with each weekend.  We can look back on things and have an idea of where you need to go with the grooves and things like that.  The biggest help it will have will be on road courses.  We haven’t really raced one yet but I know it’ll help me out a lot especially the longer ones that have so many turns.  We have to judge what’s coming out next so that’s huge.

RT :  You’re competing in your first full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series, making the series jump up from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with the SS Green Light Racing team.  From your perspective, what are some of the things that you’ve been able to pick up on that’s made you better in the racecar?

RB :  There’s a ton of things that I’ve picked up just this year alone.  The races are a lot longer than they have been in the past.  The attrition rate is a little bit higher.  It’s definitely tougher.  We have long green flag runs and we have these really fast guys out there that put you a lap down real fast.  Each weekend, we make every second of practice count and try to get long runs in and see what we have.

Now that we’re kind of in a good rhythm…I think we’re on a good upswing and we’re having an expectation of where we should be at a certain point during the race weekend if we’re going to have a solid one or not.  We haven’t been here in the car yet.  It’ll be kind of like a scratching the surface learning experience.

We brought this car from Iowa and it’s a really good car for us.  It has proven itself which is good especially coming to a short track.  I’m excited about that.  We get to go out there and have some good practice laps.  If I can get back into the rhythm really fast, it’ll be really good.

RT :  You enjoy racing up here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and you had a solid 13th place finish in last year’s Truck race.  What are some things that you enjoy about racing at “The Magic Mile” and some of the keys to getting around this track successfully?

Seems like Ray Black Jr. loves "The Magic Mile!" (Photo Credit: Team Scuba)

Seems like Ray Black Jr. loves “The Magic Mile!” (Photo Credit: Team Scuba)

RB :  The best thing about this track is just the long sweeping turns.  You’ve got to carry a lot of speed.  You get on the brakes and you’re off them pretty fast.  You’re carrying a lot of momentum.  That really comes down to how your car is handling in the middle of the turn.  That’s really fun because you get to work on it and feel the changes compared to some tracks where you can make a big swing at things and it’s kind of numb.  Here, you feel everything that you do to it.  That’s always fun.

We probably have three grooves here.  The bottom’s really flat so you can get your left sides down there to help it turn.  Most places are kind of, “You have what you have and you have to figure it out.”  It’s a short track so a lot of aero doesn’t come into play.  A little bit will but not too much.  That makes it fun for us short track people.  I like beating up people a little bit. (laughs)

RT :  Any particular racers in mind?

RB :  Yea, I’ve got some of mine but you know! (laughs)

RT :  There’s been constant progress through each race for you and the No. 07 team with eight top-25 finishes in the first 16 races.  What’s your expectations for the second half of the year and some goals you’re setting forth with your team?

RB :  I’d definitely like to double our top-20 finishes.  That’d be great.  I know that we can finish in the top-20 every week.  That’s a pretty big goal for us but I think we can do it.  As long as we don’t have any failures during the race and catch a few breaks here and there, I think we can definitely come away with a few top-15’s.  It’s not easy especially nowadays.

Hopefully this weekend, we can have a lot of cautions so that we can stay on the lead lap.  That’d really help us out.  That’s always a good thing.  That’d be a great goal for the second half.  There’s a lot of tracks that we’re going to that we’ve been to already.  That’s going to help us a whole bunch so I’m excited about that.

RT :  It’s not often when you find a driver who has that perfect sponsorship package that meets their passion or interest.  How’d your connection with ScubaLife and the Commercial Diving Academy form and what are some of the cool things you get to do with both groups off the track?

Forget Scuba Steve - there's Scuba Ray! (Photo Credit: Gene Page)

Forget Scuba Steve – there’s Scuba Ray! (Photo Credit: Gene Page)

RB :  That’s solely our company.  It’s great, man.  I’ve been growing up doing it my entire life.  It’s awesome.  That was my first love.  My dad got me into diving.  Progressing through the years, I began to pick up on racing shortly after.  It’s crazy how they go hand and hand with a lot of things.  You get to travel with those sports.  It’s very focused on both sides of it.  It’s dangerous with both of them too.  That’s cool.  It’s neat to have that in my life.  I like those little things that set me apart from other people and I feel like I’m definitely doing that right now.  It’s cool to have that outlet and get people involved with diving and things like that.

RT :  You posted a neat Throwback Thursday photo and you used #NewHampshire.  Did that really take place at this racetrack?  What was the story behind the photo?

RB :  (laughs) No, no.  I don’t know why.  I guess I was looking at hashtags.  That was one of my first races.  I don’t know if it was like third or fourth race.  I thought it was cool.  It was Thursday and Kayla (Ray’s public relations representative) is always reminding me to put the photo up.  I figured it would be kind of funny.  That was a cool moment in my life.  That was my first car right there.  It was neat.  It was fun times and it was cool to reminisce.

RT :    You have to once in a while.  Like what Terry Farrell said as her character Dax in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, “If you want to know who you are, it’s important to know who you’ve been.”  When you started racing, you followed the mantra, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”  How intense was the racing in the Florida Mini Cup Racing Association and how much of your experiences there has helped you with your NASCAR career?

RB:  It’s definitely changed.  It’s a whole different ballgame.  Everybody knows what it takes to win in this sport.  It is what it is.  For our level with our budget and things like that, I think we’re doing a great job.  It’s our first year in the XFINITY Series with our team.  We did the Truck Series last year.  I think we’re kicking ass.  I’m having a great time.  When you have a top-20 day after some bad races, it makes you feel really good.  When we get that top-10 or top-15, it’ll be crazy.

RT :  It’ll feel like a victory like that top-five in the Truck race last year.  To say the least, these upcoming races are will be as physically grueling as they can get with the heat and humidity picking up at venues like here at Loudon, Indianapolis, and Iowa.  As a driver, how do you prepare for those conditions so that you’re able to take on the extreme heat not only from the weather but with being in that car?  What are some things you try not to do to avoid the falling off the seat experience?

No time for candy. (Photo Credit: Gene Page)

No time for candy. (Photo Credit: Gene Page)

RB :  That’s a good question.  I’m from Florida so the heat and humidity aren’t a big deal. (laughs)  I’ve always been used to that and driving in the heat through most of my life.  I kind of take to it well.  As far as falling off the seat, I don’t do that too much but I should eat healthier and do some things differently.

I feel like I’m always active and I’m outdoors doing something that’s fun like working on my bike.  I feel that helps me a whole bunch.  I haven’t had one of those moments yet but it does get hot every once in a while, especially in a red flag when you’re sitting there.  You try to stay hydrated and try to not eat so much bad food.  There’s bad influences everywhere so…(snickers)

RT :  Oh really? What kind of bad foods are you talking about?

RB :  What kind of bad foods do you eat, Kayla?

Kayla Darrow :  Candy. (laughs)

RB :  Lots of candy?  You’ll get too much sugar from that and pass out.  (laughs)

RT :  The NASCAR XFINITY Series is a great proving ground for young racers like yourself.  With the sport in the middle of a transition with Tony Stewart’s pending retirement and Jeff Gordon’s final full-time season last year, how important is it for drivers like yourselves to connect with the race fans on social media and to put on a good show on the racetrack?

Ray Black Jr. is focused on the mission at hand. (Photo Credit: Team Scuba)

Ray Black Jr. is focused on the mission at hand. (Photo Credit: Team Scuba)

RB :  That’s more than half of what we do.  We don’t get to have that much track time during the week.  We might get a couple hundred laps each week so that’s not too much.  The social media part is the biggest part we have to deal with.  It’s a bonus if you like it.  I’ve always liked it but I haven’t been 100 percent involved with it.

I’m working towards that and I think I’m getting good at it somewhat.  I’m having fun with it and that’s what matters.  Sometimes, you’ll forget and it slips your mind but you should definitely do it.  Especially for the younger racers coming up, that’s where it’s going to come from.  Sponsorship might want followers and fans will want that too with social media.  That’s where it’s going and it’s fine with me.

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to Ray Black Jr., the kind folks at SS Green Light Racing, and Kayla Darrow for making this wonderful interview possible for the race fans here on The Podium Finish!  The racing photos accompanying this feature are courtesy of Team Scuba while the diving photos are courtesy of Gene Page.

We also want to acknowledge New Hampshire Motor Speedway for being great hosts to us for interviews like these realized on TPF!  Thanks again.

If you’d like to learn more about Ray, “Like” his Facebook page, “Follow” him on Twitter, and “Visit” his official website!  To learn more about the SS Green Light Racing effort and Team Scuba Racing, be sure to check out their Facebook page and Twitter right now!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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