Late Model Racer Long Ready For Bid At NASCAR Stardom

Johanna Long smiles as she waits for her turn to qualify for a USARacing Pro Cup Series event at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway in 2010. (Larrie Ervin Photo)

The phrase “like father, like daughter” isn’t quite as common as “like father, like son,” but for Johanna Long, the expression fits.

Following in the footsteps of her father Donald, the Pensacola, Fla., native has been tearing up the late-model circuit across the Southeast, culminating in what she describes as her biggest accomplishment to date — winning December’s prestigious Snowball Derby at her hometown track of Five Flags Speedway in just her third try.

That achievement is considerable, as the winter late-model classic has taunted many a competitor over its storied 43-year history. Even more notable is that Long joined 1994 victor Tammy Jo Kirk as the only women to win the event. And considering that “Jo” is only 18, that feat becomes downright impressive.

Long’s love affair with racing began as a young child. Instead of playing dress up or collecting Barbies like most 5 year olds, Long, the youngest of three daughters, took an interest in her father’s participation in the now-defunct NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro Series. But with Donald away from home, traveling across the Southeast with the late-model tour and unable to nurture his daughter’s motorsports ambitions, her parents tabled the matter; instead, Long turned to activities like ballet and softball.

But nothing could quench her desire to race, and eventually Donald scaled back his late-model career to help his youngest daughter pursue her racing goals, finally caving and buying his daughters a go-kart when Long was 8.

While her oldest sister, Holly, also tried her hand at racing — Long laughs and says her sister’s lack of car control on track “scared everyone”— the youngest Long showed promise. In four years of go-kart competition, she earned multiple wins across the Sunshine State before advancing to Legends cars.

At 14, Long took her career a step further, climbing behind the wheel of the asphalt late models that had first captivated her as a youngster. Taking on the pro late model division at Five Flags Speedway, she gained valuable on-track and in-car experience.