From diving to driving with Ray Black Jr.
Ray Black Jr. at Phoenix International Raceway in March.
Photo by Brian DeGruchy/TheRacingExperts.com
By Zachary Lange
May 28, 2016
CONCORD, N.C.—Hundreds of feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico lies some of the ocean's biggest predators, and some of the most explorative people in the entire world.
One of those people is full-time XFINITY Series driver Ray Black Jr. competing for SS Green Light Racing.
The Montgomery, Alabama-born driver and his family relocated to Florida when he was nine years old. The water became one of his biggest loves. Combine that with his hobby of playing video games, Black Jr. decided at age 14 to race professionally, getting his start in late models.
After high school, he began deep sea diving across the globe with his father.
“I started working in the field when I was about 18-years-old with my dad after I graduated high school,” Black Jr. remarked. “We did this for about two-and-a-half years, travelled the world and did a lot of work diving and recovering salvage.
Ray Black Jr. practices at Charlotte Motor Speedway Thursday.
Photo by Ryan Willard/TheRacingExperts.com
“I spent about five months off the gulf coast of Florida in a small town right above Tampa, and it was pretty neat being able to travel around.”
The salvage recovery he worked in was for a 4,000 ton dry dock boat that had sunk. Battling elements while appreciating the beauty of the ocean, Black Jr. spoke of his experiences of the coast of Florida intrepid emotion.
“It was all about work, Dad and I got up early and worked all day, and you had your good days and your bad but the diving aspect was pretty awesome. You always had the opportunity to see things like sharks and barracudas.”
Creatures most people cringe at the thought of and cite as a reason to not go into the water, was only an afterthought for Black Jr. and his job to find missing pieces to a mammoth steel boat.
Sponsor Scubalife and Black Jr. partnered in 2014 in the Camping World Truck series. After a full-time year in 2015 that had a fifth place at the season opener at Daytona, Black Jr. and SS Green Light moved over to the XFINITY Series for 2016.
Scubalife is a web-based networking company connecting professional dive instructors (like Black Jr., who has his NASE diving certification) and water sport enthusiasts with retailers, hotels and restaurants.
While diving is a passion first, Black Jr.’s sponsor partnership with Scubalife allows him to represent their brand well with the knowledge he brings to the table, while being supported and able to have full funding to run every race this season.
“To have a connection with your sponsor and be able to talk about them freely in and learn new things although I know a lot about is great, it is great to have Scubalife in my profession,” he said.
Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards stated on radio one practice that he wanted to go diving with Ray.
“Little things like that are cool and are a good icebreaker,” Black Jr. replied.
Black Jr.’s full first year in the XFINITY Series has been met with obstacles that the team has had to overcome.
“The competition around is a lot more stout,” he said. “You have to set more benchmarks in the XFINITY Series. With the Trucks, a top-15 is good and a top-ten is great,” Black Jr. said, adding “Also the schedule has ten more races and has more road courses and overall more variables than the Truck Series.” The aforementioned stout competition comes from big budget Sprint Cup teams such as Roush Fenway Racing and Xfinity powerhouse JR Motorsports. Black Jr. feels that as a driver he can appreciate the bigger budgeted teams racing in the Xfinity Series as he can learn from them.
“I think it is great to have big teams there,” he said. “As a driver, I can learn a lot from those guys and they are very fast. Overall, it has its ups and downs. I would rather have a good race with Cup drivers than a bad race without Cup drivers.”
Ray Black Jr. races in as pack of cars during the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway in April.
Photo by Jeremy Thompson/TheRacingExperts.com
But, as for the spectator’s standpoint, Black Jr. acknowledged the frustration fans can feel seeing most the field a lap down.
“I do [see the frustration],” he said. “Once they (Cup drivers) get checked out, there isn’t much others can do about it. But we can race them hard and hope not to fall a lap down.”
For this season, Black Jr.’s best finish came at Dover International Speedway two weeks ago with a 17th place finish. Coming into Memorial Day weekend, Black Jr. looks to use that 17th place finish and continue to consistently finish in the top half of the field.
He remarked on his Dover finish and momentum carried from it saying, “Dover was a huge race for us, and we probably should’ve had a better finish but we couldn’t catch a break with a caution. I think that result will carry us a long way in the next couple weeks.
“Charlotte will be a really good tell for us and what results we can have, being at a mile and a half and not being there yet this year. If we can finish with a top twenty we will be in really good shape.”
Looking forward to the rest of the season, Black Jr.’s SS Green Light Chevy looks to finish consistently in the top-20 weekly.
“Work our way up and build our program from there,” Black Jr. remarked when asked about future goals. “I want to compete for top-15’s every other week, and we are on the right track to that. I’m very excited.”
From deep sea diving to high speeds driving, one thing remains consistent for Black Jr.
“You just got to keep steady, every week. Keep doing the same thing, and getting better at it.”