Nineteen-year old opening eyes in first season in Nationwide Series
SPARTA, Ky. -- Johanna Long has known what she wanted to do with her life since she was 5. Her late-model racing father, Donald, wanted her to first try other things.Ballet? The tights weren't a good fit. Both Long and her older sister, Haley, can recall Johanna picking at them. (Neither was in the presence of the other when they spoke of Johanna's discomfort in the dance leggings.) “I want to be a successful race car driver and I'm doing everything I can and hopefully, everyone will notice that and know that I do belong out here and I do deserve a shot.” -- JOHANNA LONG
Softball? A diamond isn't this girl's best friend. Again Johanna and Haley chuckle, each reminiscing an almost identical moment in the outfield grass to describe Johanna's disinterest.At age 8, Johanna got what she wanted all along when her dad bought her a go-kart, and the rest is history. Well, it's history in the making: youngest driver (age 15) and first female Pro Late Model track champion at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., her hometown; first female to win the Sunoco Gulf Coast championship in Super Late Models; 2010 champion of the Snowball Derby, the prestigious late-model race; youngest female driver (age 19) in the history of the Nationwide Series.Long finished 21st in her Nationwide debut in the season opener at Daytona, beginning a 2012 year of transition: getting acclimated to a heavier car; adapting to different styles of race tracks; working with an unfamiliar crew. From go-karts to Legends to late models and even the Camping World Truck Series, Long has enjoyed the comforts of racing for a family-owned operation. Her Nationwide deal with ML Motorsports changed that dynamic."It's a work in progress, for sure," Long said. "It's just learning each other, learning the stuff I like in a race car and what they can give me."What ML Motorsports has given Long is an opportunity. She has a 21-race schedule for both this year and next in the No. 70 Chevrolet and found a kindred spirit in team owner Mary Louise Miller. But it's not particularly gender that forms such a tight bond between the female driver and the female owner."It's really cool racing for a lady like her, because we have the same goals. She wants to compete well. She wants to be out there and wants to make a name for ourselves," Long said. "We have the same goal and ambitions and that's why we work so well together, that's why we hit it off so good at the beginning when we first started meeting up with each other."The association also has provided Long with a mentor in former series champion David Green, who serves as her spotter and driver coach. Green is a nine-time winner in the series with more than 400 starts."He teaches me so much. If I sit with him ... I learn something new," Long said. "He tells me what's around me, what lines to run on the race track, what to do to make it better on long runs. He's just a good asset to this team and a good asset to me."Green's goals for Long are modest -- most notably to stay out of trouble. In Long's first nine starts this season, she has been running at the finish in eight of them. Her average finish is 22.9.Johanna Long
Long finished one lap down at Daytona. It stood as the closest she had come to finishing on the lead lap in her first eight races. It might not sit well with Long, but Green was fine with it."In her eyes, she thinks it's disastrous -- 'a big part of my goals this year is to finish on the lead lap every single race' Long says -- but I'm telling you, it's not," said Green, who judges results based on progress and experience. "I've been really, really tickled with what she has been able to accomplish and in such a short period of time."In Long's most recent start, at Michigan, she finished a season-best 16th and on the lead lap. She hopes it's a springboard for more of the same."Michigan was a big step for us and our team and ML Motorsports. It was a lot of fun," she said. "I came over the radio after the race, I said, 'Guys, that's awesome. Finally, we showed them what we can do.'"Every race we go to I feel like we improve and it's definitely showing. We just got to keep on doing that and we'll get better."Green definitely thinks that is possible. He's been impressed with the cars crew chief Mark Gutekunst and the crew have put on the track, and their ability to give Long what she "desires in a car in certain situations."But mostly, he is excited for Long."I've not a seen a driver at this age and at this part of their career be as hungry as she is," Green said. "Johanna's committed. I've never seen the commitment that Johanna has, not only to her job at hand but her career as a driver."Football games? Nope. School dances? Uh-uh."All I cared about was going to the race track on Friday night and hanging out with my crew and racing. You eat, sleep and breath racing, that's true, and I don't know where my life would be if I didn't have it because that's all I ever want to do is get in a race car and race." Long said."I want to be a successful race car driver and I'm doing everything I can and hopefully, everyone will notice that and know that I do belong out here and I do deserve a shot."