Summer Bedgood · Wednesday October 9, 2013
For Johanna Long, finding a way into NASCAR’s upper ranks has been a rough road as she searches for sponsorship. Long has had the opportunity to race in a limited schedule of NASCAR Nationwide events with ML Motorsports this year, a quality organization where she’s looking for more backing to put together a full season in 2014. At times, the team has shown flashes of brilliance; Long has a respectable nine top-20 finishes in 17 starts. But she also has three DNFs, all for wrecks and is clearly still learning the ropes of stock car racing at age 21. ML Motorsports is growing along with her, an upstart independent based outside of the hotbed of North Carolina that hopes to “break the mold” of needing to be based in the Southeast, affiliated with a top-tier Cup program in order to thrive in NASCAR’s second-tier division. At the same time, they struggle occasionally, with both equipment and horsepower for those exact same reasons.
That’s not the only obstacle in place here. Is Long, a woman driver trying hard to make history of her own, tired of playing “second fiddle” to a peer with far more experience and marketing savvy? She sat down with Summer Bedgood in Kansas to talk about being a female racer in the Danica era, her goals for the future, and what’s fun off the track.
Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com: Do you think you would be in the spotlight more if Danica Patrick weren’t in the sport?
Johanna Long: Well, I don’t look at myself as a female driver anyways. I look at myself as another driver out there. She’s doing a great job right now. She’s definitely a trailblazer in the sport, but it’s not me focusing on myself and doing the best I can every time I get on the racetrack. Once I start finishing in the top 15, top 10, top five regularly, then all of that stuff is gonna come.
Bedgood: So does it offend you when someone says they are a fan of yours just because you are a female driver?
Long: No, definitely not. I know that I am a female and that’s something that I am proud of being in this sport. But also noticing young girls wanting to get started racing is really cool to see and for them to watch me and see me go up the ranks and be here, it’s kind of cool to be a role model in that way too.
Bedgood: Do you think there is too much focus on diversity in the sport right now?
Long: No, I don’t think so. I guess when you get out there, you don’t mind the diversity part outside, but when you get inside, you like everyone to know that you’re there for a reason and that’s because you’re just a driver, not just because you are a female.
Bedgood: What about next year? What is the potential for you to have a full-time ride for the first time in your career?
Long: To be completely honest, I have no clue. I don’t know what my future holds. Hopefully I am in the Nationwide Series or in NASCAR. But right now it’s focusing on 2013 and I’ve got six more races this year to think about. It’s about going out there and giving 110% and showing people that I do belong here and that I do deserve a shot to stay.
Bedgood: What about moving up to the Sprint Cup Series? Obviously that is a long-term plan of yours, but is that something you are thinking about right now?
Long: Right now, no. Hopefully one day that is where I will be, but it’s all about focusing right now on the 2013 season and getting the finishes that we deserve at ML Motorsports.
Bedgood: What do you need to be a top 10 driver in this sport? You’ve had over 60 starts in this series with no top 10s. What needs to happen for you to become a successful driver?
Long: Well, definitely having those sponsorship dollars to make the program. You just have to have everything go your way. I’ve had a lot of decent finishes. A lot of top elevens. Just messed up a little bit. But just putting the whole race together is really big.
Bedgood: When you guys are searching for those sponsorship dollars, do you push the female aspect of it? Is that something that is even part of the discussion?
Long: Oh yeah, it’s something that you do have to bring up because I am a female. My name is Johanna, is it a girl’s name, and I do have hair. So you do push that, but it depends what it is.
Bedgood: Does it really help?
Long: I think finding sponsorship right now is hard for everybody. Everyone’s out there trying to find sponsorship so it’s just trying to find that right person to take a chance on you and really believe in you and think that you deserve a shot. That’s definitely hard to find.
Bedgood: You are also part of a youth movement going on in the lower levels of this sport right now. Once the current Sprint Cup Series drivers starting retiring in 10, 20, or more years, do you see yourself being one of the top level drivers once that happens?
Long: I sure hope so. That’s what I want. I’m out here racing and I’ve been racing since I was eight years old. That’s the biggest goal of mine is to make it to the Cup level but also be successful in NASCAR.
Bedgood: I know you said you are focused on 2013, but do you even have a five to ten year plan for your future?
Long: It’s hard to say a five-to-ten-year plan. You definitely have to have the sponsorship dollars in NASCAR. But if anything could go perfect, I would like two or three more years in Nationwide. I feel like I’ve gained a lot more experience. I haven’t raced a full season in any level in NASCAR.
Bedgood: Do you think that would help, to have a full season?
Long: Oh, yeah, for sure. Once you’re in the car, it’s crazy how much I learn every time I sit in that seat. If you kept on going all year long, it’s gonna help you when you miss five weeks. It’s hard to get your kickback.
Bedgood: Is there a big talent gap between the Truck Series and Nationwide Series? You hear all the time that there is a huge difference between Nationwide and Cup, but what about Trucks and Nationwide?
Long: Talent-wise, no. In NASCAR, there’s so many good drivers. Especially in the Nationwide Series this year, the talent that’s in this series is unbelievable. The series, I feel like this is the best that it has been in a very long time.
Bedgood: What about Cup drivers in the Nationwide Series? Does that bother you?
Long: No, not at all. I feel like when they race in the Nationwide Series, I feel like that makes you strive to be better, and you learn so much from those guys and watching the lines that they run, you can learn a lot from them.
Bedgood: What’s the atmosphere like here at ML Motorsports? Do you think you could be successful here long term?
Long: Yeah, these guys at ML Motorsports work extremely hard. Without Miss Mary Louise Miller and ML Motorsports, I definitely wouldn’t be here today. I doubt I would be in NASCAR right now if it wasn’t for them. Her giving me the opportunity to race these 21 races for these two years, it means a lot to me and I owe everything to her.
Bedgood: You’re obviously very successful at the short track level, like in late models. Would you rather race full-time competitively at those levels, or race full-time in a mediocre capacity at the NASCAR level?
Long: I just wanna race. Whatever it is, if I can race every weekend, I just wanna be in the seat. That’s a big goal of mine, and short track racing that’s in my blood and always will be. When I’m not racing in NASCAR, I’m definitely out there at a late model race just watching or being involved.
Bedgood: So you still do a lot of that, don’t you?
Long: Oh, yeah. I’ve raced at seven races already this year.
Bedgood: And you probably plan on more the rest of the year?
Long: Oh yeah. I have a couple more this year that we have planned. A couple big ones. But right now, I have six more races with these guys and giving ML Motorsports my time and just doing the best that we can.
Bedgood: Does constantly racing make you a better driver?
Long: Yeah, you learn so much every time you get in the seat and just racing with people and learning different people’s techniques. I feel like just being in the car is a major help.
Bedgood: What do you like to do outside of racing?
Long: Go to the racetrack! No, hang out with friends and going back to visit my family because they do live in Pensacola, Florida still and I live in North Carolina. So I like to go home and visit my family and just hang out. Just chill out.
Bedgood: So if you had to describe yourself to someone and you had to leave “racecar driver” or anything related to racing out, how would you do that?
Long: I feel like I’m a very outgoing person. I like to cut up and have a good time. A lot of people think I’m really shy, but once you get to know me I’m pretty loud.
Bedgood: Is your whole family like that? It’s just racing all the time?
Long: Yeah, well, my dad raced when I was little and I was always there at the racetrack since I was five years old. My whole family almost always comes to all of my races, so it’s a big family event.
Bedgood: *Do you have any favorite television shows? *
Long: You know, it’s the craziest thing. I don’t really watch a lot of TV. If I’m on my computer, I don’t really sit at home and – I’m always on the go. I can’t sit home longer than 30 minutes and I go crazy.
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