We Are Walero: James Black
Community sits at the very heart of Walero. We love hearing the many stories of success from those who wear and champion Walero across the globe. In this series, we check in with our athletes in all corners of the world to find out what drives them to Get The Edge.
This month’s edition sees us chat with James Black, who is no stranger to a race circuit, having dedicated all of his spare time to the world of racing. This year has seen him embark on a fresh new challenge; which has seen him hurtling a Mini Challenge Trophy machine around some of Britain’s most famous circuits.
Far from just a hobby, every facet of James’ life is geared towards making his racing dreams a reality, he lives and breathes racing in everything he does. Whether it be driving the car itself, instructing customers in their own cars or handling the spanners as a mechanic in his spare time at the track, there isn’t a moment where he isn’t involved in the sport he loves. However, for James, racing was something he never thought was possible when he was growing up as a little boy with a dream.
“I come from a family where there was no racing background at all. If you mentioned it to my mum and dad at the time, they wouldn’t have had a clue. My uncle and my granddad however did enjoy the world of motorsport that little bit more, so I guess I can thank them for introducing me to it! I live only ten minutes away from Brands Hatch, so having such an iconic track as your local circuit is definitely a bonus and I used to spend all my free time at the weekends watching keenly with my dad and from there I haven’t had time to look back.”
“My first steps into the world of racing stem from when I received a junior kart as an eleventh birthday present after pestering my mum and dad for a few months,” he jokes. “The excitement was unmatched at the time if I’m being completely honest, I just could not wait to get going.”
James would soon venture out onto his local karting track in club competition, and quickly found out that he had what it takes to be racing at the very front. In a kart that he laughingly described as a ‘bag of nails’ he would continue to battle it out with the top runners in his age category, collecting wins and podiums as his confidence continued to grow. Therefore, it was soon time to take it to the next level and the highly competitive world of ROTAX karting would await him.
“The move up the classes to the ROTAX championship was a daunting experience for sure, but I had an optimism and confidence in myself that we could go after some good results. We had a good two years in the championship, and I found myself at the front in the middle of the first season, where everything clicked into place. I ended up finishing second that year due to drop scores, but it was a brilliant experience from start to finish!”
“I also actually ended up competing in a full season at Forest Edge in my second year of racing and this was where I would battle against those involved in the British Karting championship which was a massive challenge for me. But we stuck with it and actually held our own which was welcome news considering the calibre of driver I was up against.”
After getting the experience I needed in karting, we all collectively decided as a family that it was time for me to take the step up again and start competing in something a bit more solid than a kart. In 2020 James would become involved with the annual Junior Saloon Car Championship scholarship programme, which gives young and budding drivers the opportunity to showcase their skill behind the wheel as they look to take the step from karts to cars.
“That JSCC scholarship was a great experience for myself, I ended up putting in a good showing for myself and finished in the Top 3 out of plenty of other drivers, it was needed confidence boost as I looked to enter the world of tin-top racing as a young driver trying to find his feet in the world of racing, which is not an easy experience for anyone. Thankfully, the team at Westbourne Motorsport were impressed with my performances and they gave me a spot in the team for 2020. Looking back on it now, it was all a whirlwind to be honest, maybe I didn’t learn as much as I could have done or pay attention to the finest of details in that first season of car racing, but boy did I have some fun!”
“I wouldn’t want to change what happened that season as it made me who I am today, it taught me to be perseverant and accept that racing like any other sport is full of ups and downs that no one can predict, overall, it was a steep learning curve, but a valuable lesson in never giving up no matter how big the obstacles are.”
After competing in the JSCC for a season, garnering all the experience he needed as he transitioned from karts to cars, James would finish as the second placed rookie and had definitely made an impression on those around him with his calmness and maturity behind the wheel for a seventeen year old fresh from the karting ranks.
James would adapt well to the challenge of racing cars, so much so that he took another brilliant step up in his career to the well-established Britcar Endurance series in 2021 with Westbourne once again at his side. The Britcar championship was a significant change from the closely-knit, door to door action of the JSCC which was comprised of cars of a single make. James would now be racing amongst several classes in a much bigger field and had to keep his focus for several hours at a time around the UK’s biggest circuits.
“The step up to Britcar was a welcome one, but also slightly daunting to me. It was a big change from the relatively small nature of the JSCC where the cars were all a single make and there was little to separate those out on track. The car however, was an absolute joy to drive, the Clio was a great package that season, I did miss the action packed racing of the JSCC, but for me it was all about getting seat time in the car and experience behind the wheel in general as my time at a race track was limited.”
“I think for me the biggest challenge was maintaining focus throughout a stint, something which the Walero base layers excel at,” he explains. “You had to manage the tires, the fuel and the added pressure of the much faster classes charging past you all whilst competing to be the very best in your own category. The two years I raced in Britcar from 2021 to 2022 were the steepest learning curves I faced, but I also overcame them and that also shaped who I am behind the wheel today, equally as much as the JSCC did!” James finished runner up in the Clio Class in each year with class wins and podiums to his name as well.”
Finally in 2023, James would get his chance to race in a series that he had always dreamed of competing in, the Vertu Motors Mini Challenge. James would find himself quickly thrust into one of the UK’s most competitive and intense championships, where thirty drivers battle it out lap after lap, door to door around some of the best tracks in the UK. This season has certainly seen some of the most intense racing in the championship as it once again joined some select rounds of the BTCC for races at Thruxton, Croft and Donington, giving James the opportunity of a lifetime and one he would not forget anytime soon.
“This season has been intense and non-stop thrills from start to finish from the first time that the chequered flag dropped at Brands Hatch in April. I had never experienced anything so competitive from a racing standpoint before, it was so fierce from the get go. I loved every minute of it this season, it was amazing to be battling it out with drivers I had raced in the junior categories, and definitely a case of deja vu if I’m being totally honest.”
“It has also been great to work alongside the team at Graves Motorsport this year. I have known the family and the team for over eight years now, so to be driving for them was a real privilege and a memory I will look back on fondly for the rest of my career. The level of support from them has been fantastic at every passing race and it really helped me to build up my confidence as the year went on. I know the hard work the entire team do behind the scenes so its always good to reward them on track!”
“Lady luck was not always on our side with mechanical gremlins or wrong place wrong time moments that have put a small spanner in the works as we have definitely had the speed this year to be fighting at the very front.”
James looks back on the 2023 season with mixed emotions, in his words it was emotional at times with plenty of highs and plenty of lows, but he remained determined to approach every race with a new mindset, a tactic which he felt enabled him to perform his best no matter the situation he faced.
James currently sits P2 in the rookie standings for the season, with two rookie wins and five rookie podiums to his name, on 436 points, not bad going for your first season! With his season set to finish at Brands Hatch on the 4-5 November, it has definitely been one to remember for James and the team at Graves Motorsport with plenty of fond memories from a year that has seen him rise to the challenge in one of the most competitive championships the UK racing world has to offer.