Carl Long is 42 and trying to put his racing career back together. Given the shortage of employment opportunities in NASCAR today, that’s not an easy task.
By his own admission, Long has had an unexceptional career as a driver in NASCAR, one that includes a combined 45 career starts in Cup, Nationwide and Truck series races. His best finish came more than a decade ago, when he placed 17th in a truck race at Texas Motor Speedway.
But in spite of the lack of success, Long did have a career. He was gainfully employed. When he wasn’t behind the wheel, he often found work with teams that needed an extra set of hands.
That all changed 10 months ago when NASCAR suspended him. After the engine in Long’s car broke during practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it was confiscated by NASCAR officials and later determined to be 0.17 cubic inches above the 358.00-cubic inch limit.
As a result, Long’s crew chief, Charles Swing, was fined a record $200,000 and suspended for 12 races while Long and his team owner, wife Danielle Long, were penalized 200 driver and owner points and also suspended for 12 races.
Long appealed the penalty, and although his suspension was lowered from 12 to eight races, the fine and loss of points remained in place. The initial penalty was also later altered to affect only Sprint Cup competition, meaning he could eventually return to work in other series.
It still had the same sobering effect, however.
“It killed my career,” Long says. “I really didn’t have much of a [driving] career, but what it did was, it killed my working career, my [ability to] work for different teams.
“A lot of people heard the very first deal – suspended from NASCAR. Period. That’s everything, trucks, Late Model.
“The owner and the crew chief are the ones that are held responsible for the [fine]; the owner is my wife; the crew chief a good friend of mine. We were trying to do all we could to race. It’s kind of hard to go to the track and tell you wife that she can’t go, though.”
Today, Long says he’s willing to work in any series, but the economy has “cut a lot of jobs out.”
“That’s why I’m looking outside [of racing],” he says. “I want to be involved in racing, but I have to generate a living.”
He’s been back to the track – he failed to qualify at Atlanta in the Daisy Ramirez Motorsports No. 01 truck in a one-race deal – and also has worked as a marketing consultant with Car People Marketing and with Extreme Motorsports Inc., an insurance group hoping to offer policies for crewmen who go over pit wall on race day.
“They’ve been working with snowboarders and motocross [competitors],” he says of Extreme. “They contacted me about starting something here [in NASCAR]. Hopefully that will work out and I can make a living. But it’s commission based – if you don’t sell, you don’t get paid. I can’t tell the bank right now to wait on my house payment. So it’s been kind of rough.”
The severity of the fine and penalties left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of people, both inside the garage and in the grandstands. Fans have brought the issue up again in the last week, comparing it to the light three-race probation Carl Edwards received for intentionally wrecking Brad Keselowski at Atlanta, causing a frightening crash in which Keselowski’s car lifted off the ground and slammed into the wall.
While NASCAR officials have always indicated that engine, tire and fuel violations would be dealt with severely, Long’s penalty was seen as heavy-handed, in part because the violation was found during practice for the Sprint All-Star race, a non-points event, and because the engine came from an outside source – Long purchased the piece from engine builder Ernie Elliott.
If an oversized engine provides a driver with a bit more horsepower, is that any different from the downforce gained by a car that measures too low in the front, or too high in the rear after an event? In NASCAR’s judgment, it is.
Height infractions, which occur much more frequently than engine violations, often result in fines of no more than $50,000 and a loss of points. In other words, nothing on the scale of the penalties levied against Long.
Long says he’s since sold his only Cup car, but has kept his Nationwide Series and ARCA cars. Owning them isn’t the same as racing them, however.
“You just can’t get enough money to get to the race track,” he says. “Owning everything, it will cost me a minimum of $10,000 or $15,000 just to get it to the track. To pay the entry fee, buy the tires, pay for the hotel room, pay 2-3 people to help, I’ll spend between $10,000-$15,000.
“So you get to the track, and if you only pick up a check for $16,000 or $17,000? Plus, you’re gambling $15,000 that you make the race to begin with. If you miss the race, then you’re out. And I don’t have the $15,000 to gamble. I’m still paying the bills from last year.”
Paying the bills and “looking for work,” he says.
And trying to put his career back together. One lug nut at a time.
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