A series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews by USA TODAY continues with Johanna Long, a 20-year-old Nationwide Series driver who showed flashes of greatness in last September’s Richmond race. USA TODAY Sports spoke with Long at Texas earlier in June.- By Jeff Gluck
Q: From what you can tell, whose driving style is most similar to yours?
A: It’s hard to pick a specific driver that fits my driving style because I don’t have a teammate to really compare to, but there are drivers that I always try to learn and get advice from. But at the end of the day, I’m my own driver.
Q: Do you collect any of your own memorabilia such as firesuits or helmets?
A: I save my helmets, but that’s because I’ve only ever had like three helmets that are painted. I always have a crown. I have a princess crown, I have a medieval time crown and I have another crown that I tried to have with a scarier look — like Gothic-looking.
What’s up with all the crowns?
A: That’s my thing, I want a crown! (Laughs) People have their things, and that’s my thing. I just thought it was always cool. You know, I am a girl, and I guess I’ve always liked crowns.
Q: What percent of success in racing is due to the car, what percent is the driver and what percent is luck?
A: I feel like 45% percent is the car, 30% is the driver and 25% is luck. You have to have luck. If you don’t have luck on your side, your day is going to end really quickly.
Q: Outside of your family, what person has done the most for your racing career?
A: Miss Mary Louise (Miller, owner of ML Motorsports). She’s the first person I’ve driven for outside of my family. She gave me the opportunity to drive this 70 car, and that’s big for me and my career.
How did that whole opportunity come about?
A: Someone introduced me to Miss Mary Louise, and we met in New York and hit it off right then. I left and I was like, ‘This could possibly be where I end up.’ Maybe a week later, I signed with them. It all happened really fast.
Q: You come into contact with a lot of people during a race weekend — your team, sponsor types, media, fans — and they all want a piece of your time. How do you decide how to divide it up?
A: I’m a very outgoing person. I like to talk to people, and it doesn’t take me that long to get focused — if I have 10 minutes before qualifying or 30 minutes before the race, I’m fine. I know that’s part of the opportunity, so I’m going to do everything I can to make everyone happy.
Q: Fans often ask drivers if they remember them from an autograph session or appearance. Let’s say a fan wants to be remembered by you; what could they do?
A: I have the worst memory ever! (Laughs) But I do remember a lot of people, like if I’ve signed something crazy or if they do something that stands out. You’ll definitely remember those. If someone is just like, ‘Here, sign this,’ you won’t remember because you have so many of those.
Q: The last person you wrecked — did you do it on purpose?
A: I don’t think so. I don’t remember the last time I completely dumped someone. I know I’ve gotten into a couple people, but it wasn’t on purpose. (Laughs) I have gotten into someone on purpose before, but it was a long, long time ago.
I race with respect and to get respect back. If I’m running for the win or a top five, that’s all going to change — you’re definitely going to be a lot more aggressive and take more chances. But I haven’t been in that position yet, so you don’t race someone really bad if you’re not in position to.
Q: Is there a driver you’ve clashed with but now get along?
A: Once you’re on the racetrack, you’re not friends. You race people hard and whatever happens, happens. But there was a guy in my Late Model career, he would always race you bad. I did wreck him a couple times and finally he didn’t race me bad anymore. I was like 14 or 15 when that happened, so it wasn’t recent.
Did you throw down with him back then?
A: I’m not really the fighter type! (Laughs) I can’t really fight or anything, so I kind of keep my cool when it comes to that stuff. I don’t think you’d want to see me in a fight, would you?
Q: Well, that would be an article people read. Anyway, what’s the best racing-related movie?
A: I like Days of Thunder. Every time it comes on CMT, I get excited. I stop switching channels. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when that comes on, I definitely like it.
Q: What’s your song of the moment right now? Like a song you can’t stop listening to.
A: I’m into Florida Georgia Line, I really like that band. I like Get Your Shine On andRound Here, a bunch of their songs.
Have you heard the remix of their song Cruise, which features—
A: Nelly! Yes! (Laughs) That’s my favorite! I jam out to that. I like the Nelly version for sure. Nelly does a lot of country songs.
Q: Define yourself without NASCAR. Take away all the racing stuff, and who are you?
A: Oh gosh. I would be lost. I would be a lost person. But I’m very outgoing, I like to have a good time, I like to hang out with my family. It’s hard to say what you’d be without it, because that’s all I’ve ever known. But I feel like I’m a fun person, I like to go out and have fun with my friends and just live life.
Q: I’ve been asking each driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Jamie McMurray, and he wanted to know: ‘What do you think of Danica Patrick?’
A: (Laughs) Thanks, Jamie. Thanks a lot. I don’t know, she’s a good driver. I’ve talked to her a couple times, but I don’t know her on a personal level.
So you don’t have much of a relationship with her?
A: No. When you’re at the racetrack, you’re so focused on yourself and your team, you don’t really worry about anyone else. (Awkward pause) Thanks, Jamie. (Laughs)
Q: And do you have a question I can ask the next person?
A: How about, ‘What’s your biggest pet peeve on race day?’
JOHANNA LONG’S THREE FAVORITE APPS
– Snapchat. “I love Snapchat.”
– Twitter and Instagram
– Shazam. “If you hear a song on the radio, you can just snap it and it tells you what the song is.”