HUNTERSVILLE – Johanna Long’s passion for going fast doesn’t start and end with her NASCAR Nationwide Series career.
“When I’m not racing and I’m at home, I’ll race Jet Skis, dirt bikes, basically anything that’s motorized,” Long said.
The 21-year-old Huntersville resident’s task in October is to get the most she can out of her No. 70 ML Motorsports Chevy. Long has some momentum on her side as she winds down her second Nationwide season.
Entering the Oct. 11 Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, her adopted home track, Long has seven top-20 finishes in her past 10 starts. Not bad for a driver who only gets to make about 21 starts a year.
Long, however, wants more.
“We haven’t had the finishes we deserve this year,” she said. “We’ve had some really good runs and we’ve struggled a bit too, but seeing the guys have that ‘never-give-up’ attitude is a big thing for me.”
So is getting more experience. Long transitioned from Late Model cars – which she still drives on occasion – to the bigger, faster Camping World Truck Series machines in 2010.
Long went from being a part of her family’s race team to working for a team like any other driver. The trucks’ speed and weight differences initially posed a challenge.
“That’s a big jump,” Long said. “Just moving up to the fast tracks was interesting. It was a bigger jump for me than going to Nationwide cars. I felt pretty stable in those from the start.”
In a sport where seat time is the second-most valuable commodity behind bringing sponsorship, Long’s career is still gaining traction.
She won the prestigious Snowball Derby, arguably the nation’s most popular Late Model race, in December 2010. The Snowball Derby win is her proudest accomplishment.
“I don’t want to let that define me, though,” she said. “I want to make it to Sprint Cup and show people what I’ve got. It’s going to take someone giving you a chance.”
The opportunity afforded Long by ML Motorsports and team owner Mary Louise Miller was one she said kept her career on the right track.
“I liked her from the minute I met her," Miller told ESPNW. "She brings excitement to our team and to NASCAR. She's a Southern belle, but when she gets in the car, her personality changes and she's there to win the race."
NASCAR has frequently been regarded as a sport where female drivers are few and far between. Danica Patrick became Sprint Cup’s most recognizable female racer since Janet Guthrie in the late 1970s when she joined the ranks last year.
The comparisons to Patrick abound, but Long doesn’t put stock in them.
“It doesn’t faze me,” she said. “I pay attention to my team, and I’m doing the best I can for those guys.”
Breaking into NASCAR as a female isn’t any easier than in the past, according to Long.
“It’s still very tough, but once you break that mold and get more female drivers in, it’ll be a big deal,” she said.
Long has set her sights on running well at Charlotte and wrapping up the season on a good note. The dirt bikes and Jet Skis can wait.
“I’m excited to race at Charlotte,” she said. “I’m getting better every time I come to the track.”