American sports car star
"I'm on a multi-year deal with Porsche, and I'm committed to Porsche and sports cars," Long explained. "They have the trust to allow me to race in some different forms of racing on the off-weekends, that I won't get hurt and will be ready to race for them when they need me."
Long has been Porsche's only American factory driver since 2003, assigned by the German manufacturer to its teams in multiple events and series. At 27, he's won the classics of sports car racing: The 24-Hours of Le Mans in 2004 and 2007; the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, the 12-Hours of Sebring in 2005 and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in 2005, 2006 and 2007. With the exception of Daytona, Long's wins have been in Le Mans-class GT2, a highly competitive, production-based class with more manufacturer support and entries than the faster prototypes.
NASCAR is part of Long's grand plan to be a Renaissance Man, a driver who races everything with four wheels, and is capable of winning at them all.
"I want to be known as a racing driver like
Long sought the advice of Pruett and Said, who have primarily found employment in Cup through their road racing skills, and they told him to start in a non-national series.
"You can look and see what has happened with successful drivers from other forms of racing that have tried to jump straight into Cup," Long said. "It's naive to think you can run three ARCA, a [Camping World] Truck race, a Nationwide race and then run with the best in Cup. I need to run a development series. I went to the South to find out about stock cars. I need to know what a track bar and a wedge is to be a success."
Long put together enough sponsorship for a limited program this season, then headed for the NASCAR bread basket in January.
"I went knocking on doors in Mooresville (N.C.)," he said.
Long's only previous oval experience was at Ventura Raceway, a 1/5th-mile high-banked clay track near his home in Oak Park, Calif. He was 18, and he jumped into a Pony Stock for a couple of races. He remembers finishing second in one of the races.
Long was seventh in his paved debut in an ASA race on a half-mile in Pensacola. Next was his initiation into NASCAR, in the Camping World East race at half-mile Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway on April 11. Long finished sixth.
Two weeks later, he finished fifth in the CWE race at Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, N.C. The race ended with three green-white-checkered flags and was a NASCAR baptism by fire.
"I got roughed up and ended up hooking a bumper under
The veteran Lavender had finished fourth, but wasn't pleased. He wanted to let Long know it in pit lane. Instead, Lavender found teammate
"I was sitting in my car," Long said. "I wasn't even involved. I've e-mailed with Jody and we're good."
Still Long knows making everything work out is no easy task.
"You have to do your homework," he said. "I'm doing it for fun now. I want to earn respect, earn my stripes in stock car racing."
Long expects to drive in his first NASCAR road race on June 20 at the Camping World East race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
By then, he could be a three-time Le Mans winner. He'll drive for the French team IMSA Performance Matmut -- the same team he won with in 2007 -- in the June 13-14 endurance race in GT2.
It's already been a great season for Long. Driving for TRG in Grand-Am's GT3 class, he earned a well-deserved first win at Daytona. Driving the full American Le Mans season Flying Lizard's Porsche 911 with co-driver
Long also hopes to drive in the Baja 1,000 later this year, and he says the Indianapolis 500 is in his future plans. Plus, when he's completed his stock car education, he'd like to race Sprint Cup. Long not only has the skill as a world-class road racer, but also the right attitude. It will make a big difference in the long run.
"If a team is out of the top 35 in points and is looking for someone to drive on road courses, I want to be able to help them," Long said. "I'd like to drive Infineon and Watkins Glen in Cup and Montreal in Nationwide someday."
Given his track record so far, there's no reason to think he won't.