Driver’s Loves are Oceans Apart

Author: Scott Hamilton/Winston-Salem Journal

CONCORD –– Ray Black, Jr., is a driver. Or is Ray Black, Jr., a diver?

Sometimes even he has difficulty determining which label applies best.

“It all kind of blends together,” Black, a 24-year-old Floridian, said.

Don’t scoff. The two worlds are more similar than expected.

One part of his dual persona has Black driving the Mooresville-based No. 07 SS Greenlight Racing Chevrolet in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series. He’s manned that seat for 12 races (including seven last year) and began this season with a furious final-lap move in the opening race at Daytona to finish fifth. Black is 11th in the points standings, 83 points behind two-time defending champion Matt Crafton.

That’s not a sport-altering position –– Black has only one other top-20 finish this year and has had to fight to finish four out of the five races he’s entered. Still, it’s solid for a mid-tier team and a rookie driver bridging a massive divide between the deep-pocketed teams and the ones trying to keep the engines running.

“(He’s) very competitive,” FoxSports1 commentator Adam Alexander said. “The truck series is a level that you have some pretty good disparity from the top that are competitive for wins every week. When you look at Ray and that team, they’ve come in as a tier-two team and served notice of what they’re capable of doing.”

The other half of Black’s double-sided nature is when he’s navigating around ocean debris instead of track debris while working for Blacksmith Marine Offshore, the company his father founded in the early 1990s. He began scuba diving at age 12 –– two years before he even began racing go-karts and vehicles –– and it remains as much a part of his personality as his perpetually relaxed demeanor.

Both keep him busy, offer career possibilities to secure his future as well as enough adventure to satisfy the most ravenous adrenaline junkie. Moves around the track are gauged on a risk-reward basis just like each trip below the surface and the success or failure of the driver –– or diver –– often depends upon efficiency of a support team.

The diving company — which specializes in such tasks as salvage jobs, inspections and dock construction — seems like a more concrete prospect. Racing is racing –– speed and excitement and the prospects for fuel-injected glory.

He’ll eventually pick a path. Just not yet.

“I wouldn’t look at it as a back-up plan,” Black said. “It definitely is there. If it were a back-up plan, I wouldn’t be doing it right now. I’m still doing it whenever I’m racing.”

Of course he’s still diving while he’s driving.

He’s separated the two only once since he was a preteen and that’s when he quit racing shortly after he graduating high school. His father told him if he ever wanted back on the track, that he’d support him, but the elder Black wanted his son to first learn the family business. Junior was quickly progressing a few years later when his father asked him if he wanted to make another run at racing.

“I decided it doesn’t come very often,” Black, Jr., said. “(Racing), you have to do when you’re young and you have the time, you’re energetic and like to travel all the time.”

Ah, but that clock is ticking.

Limited opportunities.

Opportunities to advance to NASCAR’s big time –– the Sprint Cup series –– evaporate with each lap of each race. So Black has come up with a timeline of sorts to plot his career’s progress, the initial goal being to secure an Xfinity series ride as soon as possible. Then, after two or three years on that circuit, he hopes to move up to the big car.

The wave of change is flowing in that direction, or at least that’s a theory.

Jeff Gordon will step down after this season and will be replaced by 19-year-old Chase Elliott. If it’s time for the one time Wonder Boy to walk away, then perhaps that will start a trend others will follow. Black can only hope so much as a wave of guys handing up their helmets would leave a bundle of Sprint Cup rides with an empty driver’s seat.

Again, until another big name says he’s calling it quits, that’s a theory.

“It’s hard,” Black said. “There are a lot of guys trying to get to the same spot and there aren’t that many of them, that’s for sure.”

This article was originally published in the Winston-Salem Journal and can be found by clicking here.