Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Johanna Long, the Nationwide Series rookie for ML Motorsports who is 19th in the point standings despite missing nine races this season.
SBN: What percent of all your races can you remember?
JL: I remember 55 percent, maybe 60 percent. I remember the go-kart races that I've won or the bad times I've had in my racing career. I remember almost all of the Late Model races – you know all the ones you win and you know the ones you've done bad. So probably 55 percent.
SBN: That's the most specific percentage anyone has given all year. You win the prize for the most precise answer.
JL: Yes! I'm excited.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of motorsports?
JL: It was a go-kart race when I was 8 years old. I won a lot of go-kart races, but the win I remember most in stock cars was when I was 13 years old and won my first race. It was exciting – I passed the guy coming to the checkered. It was a good race and one that I'll never forget.
It was a Sunday race, so I had to go to school the next day. But it was just cool. It was one of the first big trophies I got, and I was going to school, showing everybody. It was cool to win it with my dad.
SBN: Do you still have the trophy?
JL: I do. I live in Charlotte now, but back home in Florida, I have all my trophies I've won from go-karts to Late Models. They're all at the shop. I have a bunch of them all lined up.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing with in the Nationwide Series?
JL: I feel like me and Brad Sweet, we race each other pretty hard, but we give a little bit and we're both clean in how we race each other.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, is there anyone who always seems to make it especially tough on you?
JL: I feel the common answer would be the No. 01 car (Mike Wallace). I think a few others have given that same answer. You know, coming from the Truck Series, I got in a lot of stuff – bad situations, a lot of people raced me rough. But this year, I feel like everyone in the Nationwide Series races you hard, but it's very clean to a certain degree. I haven't put myself in situations that I've wrecked a lot of race cars yet this year either.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
JL: It depends what's going on around you. If you're about to get lapped and the leaders are coming, you know you've got to race hard. But if you're running in the middle of the pack and you're trying to save your stuff, you're gonna ride. But if you're starting to get pressure from the guy behind you, you know that's when to push hard – and if you know you can pass a guy, that's when you push hard, too.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of people you owe for on-track payback?
JL: I feel like when people race you hard and they do something you don't like, you're always going to remember it. And whether they're ahead of you or behind you, you're going to race them just like they've raced you. So I guess you could say that. I don't really have a wreck list, but I do keep it in mind: "Well that guy races me like that, so it doesn't matter (if I do)."
SBN: Did you ever turn anyone intentionally coming up through the ranks of short-track racing?
JL: I think I've only done that one time. It was in a Legends car. I was leading my first Legends car race, and this guy completely took me out. So my dad said, "Alright, if you don't go do it back to him, then you're not going back racing." So I had to do it. (Laughs) But that was the only time I've ever done it. I try to race people how I want to be raced, so I don't go out there to wreck people intentionally.
SBN: Oh, OK. I was wondering because you kind of roughed up Landon Cassill to win the Snowball Derby, right?
JL: Yeah, I was completely shocked. I was just getting so antsy and so excited and I had new tires – and at that racetrack you can pick up the gas so much sooner and get them sideways, and he was spinning (the tires) off the corner. You know, I hated that. I look back and I'm like, "I won the Snowball Derby, but I wish I wouldn't have done it like that." But I guess it was exciting for the fans. (Laughs)
SBN: If you could turn back time and team up with someone from the past, who would you want to be on the same team with? I guess you'd like to have a teammate, period.
JL: You know, I guess I'd pick anyone who could be a big help for me. To even have a teammate would be awesome, you know? Just to learn something new. I have David Green (driver coach/spotter) and he's on my side, which is kind of like my teammate because he's been around the sport and he knows. But I don't have another driver to turn to, so anyone would be good.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
JL: To tell you the truth, I get butterflies and get a little nervous or anxious before every race. I'm so eager to get in the car, and walking to intros and standing there, that's like the worst part. You get so nervous. But once you see the green flag and start the engines, everything goes away. I've always got those butterflies and that tension before the race.
Daytona (in February) was pretty nerve-wracking for me. It was my first Nationwide race, and it was at Daytona. It was just very emotional for me, because it was exciting. But once you strap in, it's just a normal race.
SBN: You meet a lot of fans, and sometimes they can ask awkward or uncomfortable questions. Do you have any stories along those lines?
JL: When you're at an autograph session, sometimes people will ask you about a certain driver – and the driver will be like sitting two seats down from you and listening to see what you're going to say. (Laughs) I guess that makes me a little nervous and puts you in an awkward spot.
SBN: Do people realize the other driver is close by when they ask?
JL: I don't think they're paying attention. But you know who is around and if they have a teammate nearby, so you're just like, "Well...I don't really know what to say here!"
SBN: After your career is over, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official like Joe Balash?
JL: I feel like to be a Balash or a head NASCAR official takes someone who is really hard-nosed. It's a really tough job. I feel like my personality would fit more as a broadcaster. I like to talk, and I've been around racing since I was a little girl. That's all I ever want to do is be at a racetrack and be around it and talk about it.
You know, even just to talk to new people about racing and what it's about, that's all I ever wanted to do.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
JL: Um...well, comparisons to Danica. I get a lot of that. And you say the same stuff over and over, and then you get the girl question, too: "Do people race you harder since you're a girl? What do you think about being a female driver?" All of the female stuff really gets old.
I just want to go out there and race my hardest and be a normal race car driver instead of people focusing on the fact I'm a female.
SBN: I've been asking each person to give me a question for the next interview, and last week was Elliott Sadler. He wanted to know...
JL: (Breaks out into laughter) I saw this. I was like, "Oh, God, that's probably going to be my question."
SBN: It is. He wanted to know if you could explain NASCAR's restart rules in light of what happened to him at Indy.
JL: Well that sucks! This is hard! I hate that for him, because that's a hard call, for sure. Ugh...of course I would get that question.
You can't really answer that. It's really hard to tell how to start the race. That was just a hard call and it happened to a really good guy, so it stinks.
SBN: And do you have a question for the next interview?
JL: Sure. What do you do to get away from tough times at the racetrack?
SBN: That's a good question. Are you asking because you have a hard time with that and need advice?
JL: No, not really! I just thought it would make a good question for your interview. (Laughs)