Florida Escambia Virtual School - 2011 Graduate
NASCAR Week: This interview is part two in a series of five articles this week on jobs in NASCAR.
Johanna Long's website describes her as a woman with "a heavy right foot and a bright future." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Johanna, a Pensacola native, will make her NASCAR Nationwide Series debut on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. At age 19, she'll be the youngest female driver in history to start the engine in a Nationwide Series race. But, while this move will bring her further into the national spotlight, in some ways it's just another step in what's been an already impressive racing career.
Johanna caught the driving bug early. As early as the age of five, she watched her father race around the Southeast in the old NASCAR All-pro Division, and by age eight she was racing her own go-karts. Since then, she's gone on to win track championships, race at 18 on the NASCAR Truck Series, break barriers and earn respect. She closed out 2010 with a victory in the Snowball Derby, the nation's most prestigious Super Late Model race.
Perhaps most amazing, Johanna has achieved all this while keeping a reputation for being a kind, down-to-earth woman. Her interview below certainly seems to affirm that characterization.
With hard work, dedication and perseverance, anything is possible.
What sparked your passion to become a professional race car driver?
I grew up watching my dad race so I was always around some type of racing. I got the racing bug when I was about 5 years old, but my dad was racing at the time so I just kept on begging him and finally when I was 8 he let me have my turn behind the wheel in go-karts. After my first go-kart race I was hooked!
Tell us a bit about your journey. How did you go from a young girl who dreamed of becoming a race car driver to a woman now racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series?
To be completely honest, I never imagined or thought about racing in NASCAR when I was a little girl. I mean, racing is all I've ever wanted to do, but I just focused on one race at a time and my career just kept on progressing to something bigger and bigger. I went from go-karts to Legends cars to Late Models pretty quickly. By the time I was 16, I won my first major championship in the Late Model Series at my hometown track Five Flags Speedway. Once I started winning races and championships in the Late Models, that's when I knew that I could possibly do this as a career if a team or sponsor took a chance on me.
I owe all my accomplishments to my family. Because of them I've been able to race all of these years and develop a talent for the sport. They've sacrificed a lot of time and effort to get me this far in my career. Furthermore, I never thought that I would get the opportunity to race in the Nationwide Series, but because Mary-Louise Miller, my new team owner at ML Motorsports believed in me, my dream has come true and I have an opportunity of a lifetime to do what I love. I couldn't be more excited for this season! I still have to pinch myself to make sure it’s a reality!
What is your typical day like? How often are you in practice, versus making media or sponsor appearances?
I travel a lot, so I never have the same schedule; it’s constantly changing from day to day. My team, ML Motorsports, is based out of Warsaw, Ind. so I travel there at least twice a month for two to three days.
During race week, I work out with my trainer for an hour Monday through Wednesday, and then I'm traveling to my next race on Wednesday night. We get a two hour practice session before each race and as far as appearances goes that usually varies as well. I have a personal PR rep that handles all of my at-track appearances and interviews and the team PR rep schedules stuff as well, so there is always cool stuff going on! My favorite part about appearances is meeting my fans. I can't thank them enough for all of their support!
What has been one of your most rewarding moments or memories so far in your career?
Winning the Snowball Derby was by far my most rewarding moment! It’s the "Super Bowl" of short track racing, and it is known to be the most prestigious short track race in the country. My dad tried for 13 years to win, and I brought home the trophy for the both of us on my third attempt. I will never forget pulling up on the front stretch after crossing the finish line and seeing all of the fans on their feet cheering for me and then having my dad with me to enjoy it. It was by far the best feeling! It was what we both worked for a long time and we accomplished it together.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
Just the fact that every time I'm in the race car I have to perform and prove myself because there are so many drivers that would love to be in my position. It’s a highly sought after sport/career that can't be taken lightly. I'm constantly thinking about how I can be better on and off the track. In this sport, you have to have people that believe in you and take a chance on you, and the only way that is going to happen is if you prove to them on and off the track that you have what it takes.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Being away from my family has been one of my biggest sacrifices. I have an extremely close family, so it’s always hard being away from them for a long period of time. I moved from Pensacola, Fla. where my family lives, to North Carolina (racing central) to be more involved with my team. My parents come to all of my races, so I get to see them every other weekend, so that is a plus.
What is one lesson you've learned through racing that sticks with you?
Respect isn't something that is handed to you; it’s something you have to earn. Regardless if it’s your competitors, team or fans, you have to prove yourself and earn your way into the sport.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Never give up! In racing you're going to have a lot of frustrations and let downs, but you have to keep your head up and press on. The beauty of racing is that one really good race will offset all of the bad ones.
Who are some of your mentors? Why?
My dad has always been one of my biggest mentors. He was a racer so he understands what I'm going through and he always has great advice.
My driver coach and spotter David Green is my newest mentor. He drove in NASCAR for several years and has a lot of wins and a championship under his belt so I've learned a lot from him. He has a lot of experience and knowledge of the sport.
What advice do you have for other women who want to become professional race-car drivers?
Always be true to who you are and never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. With hard work, dedication and perseverance, anything is possible. Believe in yourself, even if no one else does, and remember you had that dream for a reason, so never let it go!
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I always focus on the present, but it would be pretty neat to be a successful NASCAR driver in the Cup series.
P.S. We’re dying to know…what does it feel like to go 100+ mph next to the wall and with other cars going just as fast as you? What’s going through your head?
To be completely honest, I don't really think about It. The need for speed has always been in my blood. I'm at a high when I'm going 100+ next to the wall with cars all around me; it’s a crazy but cool feeling. Definitely hard to explain!
-Interview by Brianne Burrowes