The majority of the NASCAR news in 2012 has focused on Danica Patrick’s full-time run in the Nationwide Series. It is becoming more and more difficult to avoid articles and discussion of her entry into the sport. But there is another driver gaining attention and chances are you have never heard of her. Her name is Johanna Long, and she is also competing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Sports Illustrated‘s Tim Tuttle asked in 2010, “Could Johanna Long be NASCAR’s next Danica Patrick?” While the comparisons between Long and Patrick are inevitable, there are some major differences. Long has had a successful career that propelled her into the Nationwide Series. Patrick seems to have chosen to move to the Nationwide Series because her career in IRL was not materializing. While all the focus has been about Patrick, Long has been working to improve as a new driver and as the lone driver for a new race team.
Johanna Long is from Pensacola, Florida and began racing go carts at age 8. A the age of 13, she began to race Legend Cars at Sunny South Speedway in Mobile, Alabama. A year later, Long was racing Pro Late Models. In her second season racing Pro Late Models, Long won a number of races and become the first female, and youngest ever, Pro Late Model track champion at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. In 2009, still only 16, Long ran a season of 38 races and racked up 5 wins, 18 top five finishes, and 27 top tens leading her to the Blizzard Series Champion in the Super Late Model cars at Five Flags Speedway. Long also made two ARCA series starts in 2009, preparing her for the next level of competition and an introduction to the NASCAR circuit. In 2010, Long won the famed Snowball Derby in Pensacola and made seven starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In 2011, Long ran 17 races in the truck series securing a career best 11th place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
In the Nationwide Series in 2012, Long plans to run 21 races for ML Motorsports based in Warsaw, Indiana. The team, owned by Mary Louise Miller, is famous for its cars in the ARCA series, has not completed in the Nationwide Series for a few years. Long’s sponsors for the season include Foretravel Motorcoach, Race Fuel Energy Drink, Keen Parts, Inc., Biomet, Flexaust, and Wish for our Heroes. She is the youngest female driver to compete in the Nationwide Series. As she faces a number of Nationwide Series regulars and Sprint Cup Series drivers, Long has set goals for herself in 2012. Like her 2007 run in the Pro Late Models, this year is about seat time, experience, and patience. In a recent interview, Long expressed this sentiment, “I feel like getting more experience is going to make us better as a team. And we’re going to start getting those better finishes, but I feel it’s all about progression. I feel like if we progress each and every week, it’s going to be a good year. We just gotta keep on doing that. Yeah you want some top-15 finishes, and you wanna do better each weekend, but it’s gonna come.”
As one of two female drivers in the series, Long has been overshadowed by Danica Patrick, but this is actually good for Long and ML Motorsports. As Patrick continues to struggle to adjust to the Nationwide Series, Long and her team can quietly improve each week with the help of former Nationwide Series Champion David Green. So far, she has been very consistant, with an average finish of 23rd after eight races. Johanna’s next race will be June 16 in Michigan.
I encourage everyone to support Johanna Long. Shop in the ML Motorsports team store, root for her on race day, and let her know you support her. It is not easy to for any driver to make it into NASCAR, but it has been more difficult for female drivers. I believe that Long has the talent and patience to have a successful NASCAR career and will make a profound impact on the sport. As with many small teams, however, ML Motorsports has limited funds and sponsorship, and I would like to see Long run a full Nationwide schedule in 2013. As of right now, it appears her schedule will once again be limited, but as her profile increases, she will attract more sponsorship. Talented drivers are what make NASCAR exciting, and as this young woman continues to prove herself I will be eagerly watching.