Carl Long first appeared on the scene back in 2000 as one of NASCAR’s “young gun” drivers forcing themselves onto the scene in place of fading legends. During the Coca-Cola 600 in May, it was Long who qualified for the event in his underfunded 85 ride, all while legendary Darrell Waltrip got a DNQ.
Five years later, it’s Carl’s career that he’s trying to keep from fading into the sunset. However, he’s made some progress driving the #00 Sundance Vacations Chevy/Dodge for McGlynn Racing. Join me as I sit down with the relaxed Long to talk about his past, present, and future in this week’s “Frontstretch Sitdown.”
Tom Bowles: You’ve been around Cup for awhile, for a number of different teams, but it seems that this year you seem to have come into your own making more races than you’ve ever had while racing with the McGlynns. What seems to be different about this situation that made you stick with them and they stick with you?
Carl Long: The reason why we’re in races this year is basically the caliber of team that the McGlynns are"¦but Stan Hover, Thee Dixon, all of these teams I drove for were still very low budget teams, scratching along, doing the best we could do trying to generate just enough money to get to the track. All of that is still the same (with the McGlynns). We’re still qualifying—- I’m qualifying in the same positions, the same spots, as I have been for the last 4 or 5 years. The difference is that you don’t have the Kirk Shelmerdine – Morgan Shepherd provisional stuff like they had last year so that you don’t have to qualify on time. I’ve always qualified anywhere from 38th to 43rd of all the cars showing up—- and now I’m in races because the fastest guys stay (in the race). And I like that because so many times I had qualified and had to go home. At the same point, you can qualify 33rd or better with this deal and if you got 8 guys in front of you you still go home. It’s a separate race (to make the field), but that’s why we’re in races, and the fact is the McGlynns are learning a lot more. Their learning curve is growing, and we’ve got an inventory of cars now that is more than just one car. We’ve got my car, their cars, they bought a lot of cars from Penske mixed in"¦they’ve been able to learn off the Penske cars that we bought, my car was a Petty car. Basically, it’s a learning curve that’s getting better over time and so we’re doing better.
Tom: So it’s a momentum thing—- making races increases the confidence level. How else has making races helped you in terms of cementing the team on the circuit and gaining additional sponsorship?
Long : Well, the fact that Ryan (McGlynn), who used to race, he has people, day in, day out, working on sponsorship. His father is working on sponsorship, as well as running their car dealership. But they have that time to devote. All of the other teams I’ve ever dealt with, myself included"¦I didn’t have time to work on sponsorship because I was trying to do the nuts and bolts and put the cars together"¦and if I stopped working on the car, and I was able to get a sponsor to go somewhere, you just had to take time to get a car prepared and finished, and then I had to generate sponsorship money to get to the race track. With them, they just stayed busy looking for sponsorship and that’s the big advantage with the McGlynns over any of the other teams that I’ve dealt with is that Ray is going to find somebody, some way or another, to sell a quarterpanel, or"¦some way or another, we’re going to generate a little bit of cash just to get to the track.
Tom: So, since you have been making races"¦you’ve pretty much run almost the full season. In that case, I’m wondering how you feel about the season to date"¦obviously, you’ve made those races, but struggled to finish. Learning curve coming into play again when the green flag falls?
Long : Oh yes. The learning curve is a lot better on qualifying because they get to do it a lot more than we’ve raced. (For example) the very best Nextel Cup car I’ve set my butt in was the first Dover race this year. It got rained out on qualifying, and we hit the setup really well, but it was kind of cool the first couple of days and on race day on Sunday it was very hot, and the guys did not have enough air ducted into the radiator. But at that particular point, the green flag dropped, I was 43rd, and in about 10 laps, I was 33rd, passing guys, driving really well, and the caution came out. I took 2nd spot, then I think was holding about 8th spot, but noticed that my water temperature had gone really high, and had to pull it in because it did not have enough air getting to the radiator and all I was gonna do is boil the engine down. And that was a hard learning curve for these guys. And..myself, I know better, but there’s no way I can fix it at the race track. That stuff’s gotta be fixed at home.
You know, I get to the racetrack, I look at it, I say, "Guys, look"¦ don’t you think we need some more air into this thing?" And they say, "No, this is the way this car’s run, we bought this car from Morgan-McClure, they didn’t have no problem with it." It’s the simple things"¦the biggest problem there, the group as a whole, if they don’t see it, they don’t touch it, they don’t smell it, then they don’t believe it. Our body guy hasn’t been able to come to the races in awhile, and he does all our paint and body work and templates can’t just"¦I mean, we keep getting beat up in tech line because our templates don’t fit exactly like they ought to be, and they don’t fit exactly like they ought to when they leave the shop. And the body work guy’s like "Well hell, that’s close enough! They’ll give you that!" No, they don’t give you nothing. It’s got to be right! It’s wrong or right"¦if it’s wrong, then we have to work on it at the track and it gets into our practice. That’s been our biggest downfall all year, is not having any practice time at the track.
Tom: What has it done to the team’s momentum"¦some of the qualifying runs have been pretty impressive, then you get into the race and something breaks or the handling is off and you have to bring it in. How do you keep the momentum of qualifying going during the week when you go into the race and finish 42nd or 43rd?
Long : Well, take Darlington for instance. Darlington we had our best qualifying run"¦but Darlington is a race track where your sticker tire setup versus 10-lap tires are completely different. So the guys that qualified out there, they were on their race setup, and it was hugely different than what you actually qualify from. And I had an all-out qualifying setup that was getting all you can get out of the tires. So I qualified 21st, but 10 laps into the race I was a water hazard"¦the car was so tight because we abused the right front tire to qualify. So we expected to get into the pits and try to fix it during the race. But we bounced off the wall a couple of times, and I think the ratchet springs broke in the rear end. The car started doing ratty things on me and we weren’t competitive. Now we were really competitive at Bristol, the very first race, but they didn’t have brake ducts or something like that ducted in, it was another maintenance issue that should have been taken care of at the shop. And so we didn’t finish that up. Phoenix we blew an engine. Dover, the second Dover race, we blew an engine. The second Bristol race, we finished the race, but we had knocked the lobe off the camshaft, so basically we blew an engine there too. All the races we took the green flag for, they’ve not finished either because we didn’t have enough air going to them or something mechanical on the car"¦
My Dodge engines come from Joey Arrington, but they’re not the pieces that Kenny Schrader has. These are some mileage pieces"¦I’d say we’re about 15 HP short of where Kenny Schrader is, and I would guess that Schrader’s probably 15 short of Evernham and Penske as far as Dodge engines. And my Chevrolet engines, we were able to buy some high mile parts from Hendrick Motorsports, and I got a guy named Charlie Long that keeps them put together. But they’re pieces that have a lot of miles on "˜em. The big teams are scared of running them in a 500-mile race because it may blow up, they’re running for points"¦ I’m not scared to run it 500 miles and take the chance. I need all that horsepower to go and make sure I’m in the race because if I go and build a brand new engine —- I’ll spend more money in building a brand new motor then I can buy used pieces from Hendrick or Arrington or whoever—- and it will not make as much horsepower. I do not have the research, the R&D work, the cylinderheads won’t make that kind of power, and the guys that know how to make the cylinderheads won’t sell it to you. So that’s why you come back and get hand-me-downs to the big teams.
Tom: Well, because of the challenges, how do you change your expectations then when you approach a race weekend? Does that get your crew down, knowing what they’re up against, or does that motivate them more knowing that they’ve got to work ten times harder than everybody else just go get into the field?
Long : Yeah, the bottom line is we’re all motivated to make it and yet it’s the difference between racewise and qualifying wise. But the bottom line for us is if we don’t qualify, we don’t have any race winnings coming in to justify guys’ salaries and so forth. I mean we race, I’d say, about 90 percent off of our race winnings. The big teams, you know, the drivers get 50 percent of the winnings and so forth, which doesn’t happen with us. I’d love to have that kind of money, but no, the race teams, everything functions because our sponsorship dollars are so little, um, basically I’ll offer the race winnings.
Tom: When you’re running an underdog effort like that, though, do you find that you bond with the other teams in your position, like R&J Racing, Morgan Shepherd, etc.? Will you guys help each other out to try and reach your dream of getting in the field, or will Hendrick, Roush, those superteams lend more of a helping hand to you behind the scenes?
Long : As far as going to a team and say, Hendrick, Roush, Yates"¦having any of them as an ally, no, there’s none. But going so far as saying there’s individual people at Roush ndt Hendrick…when you’ve been racing as many years as I have, there’s plenty of people, there’s somebody in just about every Cup team, Busch team, that I’ve worked with or raced against.
David Hyder. He’s crew chief on Kenny Schrader’s car. I used to race against him in Late Model Stock in South Boston (Va.), Orange County, Caraway Speedway, and he went to work at the Pettys when I was doing some Petty R&D work, and if I have questions I could go ask David Hyder. Greg Connor is the crew chief on the 66 (Peak Performance Racing). I worked for Travis Carter"¦ Travis rents a building up there to the 66 Peak Performance people. I know Greg and Shorty Edwards and Rock Harris there’s a bunch of guys that are still working there, they’re going to be wherever Travis is at. So yeah, there’s lots of information that people give me and help me because they want to see me make the race. And I’m not a threat to them. They’re in the Top 35 in the points. And then again, you have people like the 66 and the 37 that we’re all racing against each other, and we hope we beat the other one and we hope that we all make it too. So it’s ..uh"¦I don’t know how you explain it, but we all know what we do and we all get along pretty well.
Tom: In the past few years, there’s been a little bit of a window where there’s not enough sponsored teams to fill a 43-car field. At this point, for 2006 there looks to be a lot of newly formed fully-funded teams forming on the horizon, with not that many cars disappearing. Do you feel like that window of opportunity for little teams is closing?
Long : Oh yes. I mean that window is gonna close up real big right here at the end of the year because you’ll have Reed Sorenson that’ll come here and run at Atlanta, David Stremme gonna run some races all on the Ganassi stuff, and they’re coming with all the wind tunnel mileage, all the high horsepower engines, I mean they’re coming loaded for bear, not giving up nothing. I mean, I’m running the hand-me-down stuff"¦ the car that I ran at Charlotte this year is the first Chevrolet that we’ve got with the 2005 body configured for the short spoiler. All of our old cars, we’ve got a Dodge Charger that I kind of threw to the team, we ran it at Michigan, and the body was hung on it supposedly for this year’s stuff, but the car was way bad.
We haven’t had 2 cars that we sent to 2 races that were 2005 stuff. Everything else that we’re running is 2004 or 2003 when they were originally put together. So"¦yeah, I’m thinking coming up against these new guys that are guys coming in. Like I said, you still have Sterling Marlin running, and then they’ll bring this new team in and they’ll do other things, Hall of Fame racing, Michael Waltrip, which that leaves Scott Riggs going over to Evernham and starting a new team there, he’s going to have to qualify in on time. It’s not going to be easy because these guys aren’t coming with their hands tied behind their back—- they’re loaded for bear.
Tom: Thoughts on the impound race. Has that helped you or hurt you not being able to change to your race setup after qualifying?
Long : Yes and no. It’s good and bad on that because—- I can go out and qualify 21st in a full-blown impound race at Darlington when I know I’m not going to be able to run 10 laps during the race. But if I got a sponsor that’s behind me, and they expect me to run well during the race, and I drop to the back and get lapped in 30 laps and so forth, but then it’s bad.
We pulled a sponsor in this year to help us for a few races—- and ok we get in the races and new people coming in, they’re all motivated about it, but first thing that these people ask me at Dover, which was the very first race I ran up there is, "What do we got to do to win?" I said, "Win!" "We got to spend a whole lot of money and do a whole lot of things to win." I said, "Guys, I’m honest with you. So anyway, we brought these people in, I was very honest with them, and I said "Look, we gotta lease a motor. We can’t run these engines that we own. These engines that we own are a good 30-40 HP down, and those guys that have the engines that are making 830-840 HP, they won’t sell us one, and we can’t buy one, and we can’t afford to hire the guys that build "˜em for them that know what needs to be done. So the only thing we can do is rent an engine, and an engine lease is about $60,000 a race. And you never own it, you just rent it, but at least you have the horsepower you need to win the race.
So, I explained it to these sponsors, and told him I had to have this and I had to have that and we had to have a crew. All we were trying to do is make races to generate enough TV time for people like themselves and get them some airtime at a cut rate, a cheap rate compared to what they would spend on an average Cup car. An average Cup sponsorship is about I’d say, $300,000 – $350,000 a race. And our sponsorship is whatever we can get. Sometimes we get more, sometimes we get less. We try to get enough to cover our motel expenses and our tire bill and then we’ll go gamble on getting in on the race and then we made enough races that it covered our salaries and payroll and some expenses. So when you weigh it all out like that I didn’t tell the sponsor I can win the race and do all this stuff and they wound up being on Jimmy Spencer’s car. So what do you do? I mean, I could have told "˜em hell yeah give me the money! I’ll sit this thing on the poleI’ll do this"¦when their money wasn’t enough to get us over that hurdle I was just being honest with "˜em , told "˜em I’d do the best I could to get in races and if I was running mediocre and not getting "˜em any TV time, I’d make a green-flag stop when the race was going or something just to get TV Time. I mean, I’d lose a lap, but it would be worth it to me, you know to have Benny Parsons or Darrell Waltrip to come in and say Carl Long’s coming in, he must be having a flat tire or something, driving the such and such Chevrolet or Dodge. I mean, I think about things like that, my sponsor comes first"¦ because without them, it’s useless for us, and I wanted to get into this enough that I can think start thinking about racing and winning races again instead of trying to make a race.
Tom: Speaking of a sponsor, Derrike Cope is coming on board this week in a second car, possibly bringing a sponsor along. What’s going on with that??
Long : Well, I’ve missed a couple of races, blown a couple of motors in recently, and Ray (McGlynn)’s like I just got to get in Martinsville, I got to get in it, I need to put somebody else in our other car, I’d like to think Ryan’s gonna do it, but I got to be realistic, Martinsville’s gonna be tough. And I’ve got someone that says that if they put Derrike in the car, they can bring along a little bit of money to the deal. I mean, we don’t have enough people to run one team, but we do have enough people to try and qualify two cars, and hopefully one or both will be in the race because like I said we race completely—- 80 percent, 90 percent—- off the race winnings. And I haven’t been generating him any money, so I reckon that maybe there is somebody out there that can be better than me or whatever, I don’t know, if it’s just up to me or if it’s Ray trying to get two checks this weekend cause we’ve missed two. But I get along fine with Derrike, there’s no problem there, and hopefully he will make the race, and we’ll get a little extra sponsorship. And I intended to do everything I can do to make the race, I just hope the car I bump out of the field isn’t him!
Tom: Changing gears a bit before you go. If you could pick anybody to race against one-on-one, even back from retirement, who would it be and why?
Long : As long as I’ve been in here, I think I’ve raced one-on-one with about everybody I’ve wanted to except maybe Richard Petty. I’ve raced against my dad, I’ve raced against my uncles, I’ve raced on a track with Earnhardt Sr., Earnhardt Jr., Stewart, the Sadlers, Jimmie Johnson, you name "˜em"¦and I pretty much got there at the same time they have . Like I said, Richard was gone before I got there, but other than that, Scott Riggs and I used to race one on one with about 15 or 20 other cars for about 10 years against each other on Saturday night deals. So I can’t really say who it would be. I reckon The King himself, Richard.
Tom: If you couldn’t race anymore, what do you think you would have done for a career?
Long : Well, I used to manage a Domino’s pizza, but I gave that up to go racing! I don’t see myself still being in the pizza business"¦I mean, I gave up some good jobs to keep racing. I mean, I used to manage a pharmacy"¦I had my chance to do other stuff, now I make my living off of racing.
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