Although Robert Ray Black is only 13 years old, he already has had to deal with some of life’s harsh realities.
In 2007, his father, Bobby “Norman” Black died of a heart attack. On May 22, Black’s family home was blown away in the devastating tornado that smashed through Joplin, Mo. As of June 22, the Joplin tornado death toll was 156.
The Joplin tornado is the single most deadly tornado to hit the United States in 60 years, according to National Weather Service records.
Black vividly remembers when the tornado struck.
“I was at a friend’s house all day and my mom called and said I had to come home early because of bad weather,” said the younger Black, who goes by Ray. “I went home and took a shower and then I went upstairs to get a piece of pizza. It was green outside and the tornado sirens were going off and then the front door started rattling and all of a sudden I heard a sound like a big, huge freight train going through our house. Right then, my mom had me and my grandma and grandpa and everybody in our house, including our dogs go downstairs. We were all in a tiny bathroom and we formed a circle and started praying. When we finished praying, the tornado was gone. We didn’t have time to be scared. We went upstairs and our house was blown away and so was everything in our neighborhood.”
Coping with the devastation of the tornado has not been easy for Black.
“I loved that house and all my friends were there in Joplin,” Black said. “When my dad died in 2007 we had to move and now we are going to have to move again. It is hard to deal with, but I’m thankful that we are alive. It’s just has overwhelming. It’s like a bad dream.”
The younger Black did try to escape his hardships on June 3-4 by going to Ozark Raceway Park’s “Racing for Relief” event with his cousin Mike Sisco. ORP is in Rogersville, Mo., which is approximately 85 miles from Joplin.
Sisco was competing in the Mean Street class that weekend at ORP.
The main attraction at that event was Scott Palmer. The Top Fuel driver from Missouri, skipped the NHRA’s Supernationals at Englishtown, N.J., and made exhibition passes at ORP.
“I love drag racing, but I never had met Scott Palmer before, but I went over the second day after he made his run to see if I could buy a piston from him,” Black said. “He said I could just have it and I told him my story and he gave me a T-shirt and a tour of his trailer and he invited me to come back to see him race later this summer.”
Palmer and Mike McDaniel, who won the Mean Street class that weekend at ORP, took things a step further to help Black and his family.
Recently, Palmer and McDaniel gave Black’s family $500 cash.
“I can’t thank Scott and Mike enough for helping my family in our time of need,” Ray said. “My family and I started crying. It was very emotional.”
Palmer, who raced last weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio this weekend, was thrilled to assist Ray and his family.
“Ray, by chance, walked up and started talking to me that night after my run,” Palmer said. “When he told me his story, I knew I wanted to give money to his family.”
McDaniel had already planned on donating his winnings from ORP and Ray and his family were the ideal candidates for his gesture. McDaniel lives in Buffalo, Mo., which is about a two-hour drive from Joplin.
“The track (ORP) had contacted a church and they were helping five families and honestly I wanted to do something a little more personal,” McDaniel said. “One of the guys at the track told me what Scott was doing and I thought that was just perfect. I also told Ray that any race he wants to go to this year at Ozark Raceway Park, I would pay his way in.”
Black is hopeful for the future.
“I hope we someday live a normal life,” Black said. “I want to live a life without fear. I want to stop worrying about stuff like where you are going to get food and water from. I want to live a normal life.”
McDaniel definitely doesn’t want people to forget about the Joplin tornado.
“I’m in construction and I hear more stories every day,” McDaniel said. “I just put windows in for a guy whose daughter was working at a nursing home during the tornado and she had a brick wall fall on her. She is alive. I will take anybody’s ideas about how to keep the awareness about the tornado going. This tornado was devastating. It destroyed 8,000 buildings, which includes homes and businesses. It just blows me away that there have only been 150 some deaths. I honestly thought that number would be a thousand.”
Palmer is continuing his campaign to help Joplin’s tornado victims.
“At every race we go to we will take a percentage of the money the car brings in and we will donate a minimum of $500 from each race to help either Ray or another family,” Palmer said. “We have actually talked to some people down there and we have found out about other people who could use some help. After each race, we are going to help someone who needs assistance from the Joplin tornado.”
At each race Palmer attends, he also is selling T-shirts for $10 to $15 with a minimum of $5 per shirt going to help the Joplin victims.
Palmer’s generosity is more commendable considering on Feb. 9, Palmer’s home in Marionville, Mo., a small town near Springfield, Mo., was destroyed by fire. No one was hurt during the blaze and Palmer wasn’t home when the fire occurred.
“The racing family really helped me when my house burned down and we decided we needed to do something for these tornado victims,” Palmer said. “I have told everybody if we can just give one person hope, it is worth it. I know we gave Ray and his family hope. I know that. That makes it all worthwhile. We just want people to know that we care what they are going through.”
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