There’s no sense in being disingenuous; NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Johanna Long has this observer’s attention because she’s a young woman racing in the male-dominated world of NASCAR. It was the same thing for this fan watching Tyrone Bogues at 5-foot-3 compete in the land of the giants known as the NBA, when one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott made it to the big leagues; it’s interesting to follow the exploits of someone competing on the big stage of national sports who is different than their competitors. I make no apologies.
Having said that, where Johanna Long is concerned, it’s not hard to become a fan, in this fan’s humble opinion. Racing takes confidence, racing takes focus, and being a young racer requires being teachable. The 20-year old has it, and while much attention is focused on a certain former Indy Car driver, Long takes measured steps up NASCAR’s ladder as a woman driver a little further away from the spotlight.
It’s not hard to like the attitude. The daughter of late model car racer Don Long was taught young not to aim to be a female racer, but a racer. It shows. What we don’t have here, at least thus far, is a young woman selling sex for quicker acclaim. There are no men’s magazine photo spreads, and no glamor shot pictorials surfacing on the web. That’s not to slam those who do; however, Johanna Long has made her choice to focus on her on-track work, an eschew the temptation to gain the spotlight by other means. The passion is for racing, realizing fame follows results.
Look around the Internet, and you see article after article where the focus of the 2010 Snowball Derby winner’s attention is on her sport. Long would rather hang with her crew than a Friday night football game or a Saturday night dance. Even in print and electronic print media, you can sense that this is where Long lights up. She can quickly recall her days as an 8-year old go kart racer, her accomplishments as a budding late model sensation in places like Pensacola and her career thus far in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and the Nationwide Series. That’s what she’s becoming known for.
In addition to what her father has passed on to her, Johanna has the coaching of former Busch Series champion, himself a nine-time winner in 403 career starts. Green speaks of Long’s own high standards and her willingness to glean what she can from her mentor. She acknowledges she’s a “work in progress” as a driver, learning what it is she needs from a car in terms of a set u she’s comfortable with. Green has also been helpful in how to race when faced with certain situations pertaining to the track and track position.
To be sure, there’s plenty of work to be done. While there good days- 12th place finishes at Daytona and Kentucky, and a 13th place finish Iowa- there have been growing pains as well. Indianapolis and Talladega presented disappointments, and there were three consecutive finishes of 30th or worse to end 2012, no the way you want to wrap up your season. At the same time, it has to be encouraging that if her racing is garnering any complaints, it’s being done so quietly. Anyone who has followed the sport for more than two weeks knows there have been others that have not been treated so kindly.
Driving for ML Motorsports, it can also be argued Johanna Long is in the perfect place for a developing driver. There’s no pressure to become “The Next.” There is no “next.” With the pairing of Long and owner Mary Lou Miller, you have two people of like mind, hungry, very hungry to achieve more.
Yes, the fact she’s cuter than her competition is undeniable from this male fan’s perspective, but it’s the whole driver that’s keeping this fan’s attention. It’s the commitment, the youthful enthusiasm, and the down-to-earth persona that makes Johanna Long winsome. If she can build the racing resume to match her personal qualities, NASCAR fans of this generation may be witness to that breakthrough driver of the fair gender in victory lane.
Jim McCoy is a radio and television sports reporter and producer in Southern Oregon, where he makes his home with his wife and three children. Jim is also a radio play-by-play announcer for high school football, baseball and basketball. He was recently named Oregon Association of Broadcasters 2012 Sports Announcer of The Year- Non-commercial Division.
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