Johanna Long, a 19-year-old Nationwide Series driver, isn’t the first woman to try to win in Indianapolis. But with Danica Patrick fever waning, she’s receiving attention from fans looking for a new woman to break barriers in the male-dominated sport. It’s unlikely she’ll win this weekend, but it’s not unlikely that she’ll do well: Long has been on racing fans’ radar since she won the Snowball Derby in 2010 (the premiere late model car race that also jumpstarted the careers of drivers like Kyle Busch).
BuzzFeed spoke to her as she was coming off a practice run in Indianapolis.
The Indy track is notoriously difficult. What’s your game plan to win and what are some of the pitfalls?
It’s a tough place to get around for sure. You’re coming into (the straightaway) at 180 miles per hour and you think you’re going to slam straight into the wall if you miss even a little bit on your turn. The race track is so huge and it’s vast and it’s flat and it’s just a difficult track.
So how do you win on it?
It’s a race track where you just have to keep your focus because if you mess up on a corner, it’s going to kill your whole lap. You just have to stay focused. But [for me] it’s all about just going out there and getting experience. [My goal is to] run all 100 laps, and stay out of trouble and stay on the track.
This is your first time racing at Indy. Have any of the other drivers given you advice or been friendly?
Paul Menard came over to my car and gave me some tips. But everyone here in the Cup series, especially for us rookies, will help you. You just have to go up and talk to them. I also have a spotter coach, David Green, he’s been around racing for a long time so I get a lot of advice from him.
You’ve been racing since you were 8. How did you get started?
I did the ballet and the softball stuff, but it didn’t do anything for me. I just wanted to get in a go-kart and go fast, so my dad (who was a late model race car driver), finally gave me a chance and it was all she wrote. I went racing almost every weekend … when I was 13, I moved up to a legend car and I ran that for half of a year. My dad was a big late model racer in Florida so I started testing late models when I was 14 so when I was 18 I was ready for the (NASCAR Camp) Truck Series.
Is your father still really involved in your career?
My whole family’s involved, my sister does all my public relations and marketing stuff, my whole family travels with me. It’s cool since I was eight years old, my family’s sacrificed so much for me to get here. My father is definitely involved in my racing. He knows me so well and knows me as a driver, so if I have a question or my crew chief has a question of what I’m trying to say, my dad can help him understand what I mean.
Fair or not, for at least the beginning of your career, you’ll always be compared to Danica Patrick. How do you think your styles of racing compare?
I really can’t say what her style is of racing, my style is I try to be calm and I try to be patient with things and I try to push my car to the maximum limit without making mistakes. I feel like I respect people … if I’m not having a good day and someone’s breathing down my next I let them pass and then try to figure out what’s going on with my car and then catch up with them.
Do you think racing has advanced enough that you’ll be able to race without doing the same kind of racy ads that Danica’s had to do or the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues?
She’s definitely a trailblazer in the sport. When I’m on the racetrack I just focus on myself. I don’t have a lot of sponsorship right now (Editor’s Note: Long will only race part of the Nationwide Series because of lack of sponsors) but the best I can do right now is just go out and race my best. I really think I’m doing that.