Johanna Long yesterday won the 43rd Annual Snowball Derby, becoming the second woman after Tammy Jo Kirk to win the race, and beating, amongst others, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan in the process. It was a win fought for in a wreck strewn race which needed sixteen caution periods.
Long can best be summed up by quoting to you three messages she sent on Twitter less than five weeks ago. There is no more eloquent way to give you a perspective of her.
Nov. 2 – So tired of doing school work.
Nov. 4 – At the track practice starts in 30 mins
Nov. 5 – Qualified p9
That final tweet is a remarkably humble way of the 18-year-old saying she had just outqualified the likes of Ricky Carmichael, Aric Almirola, James Buescher and many other full time drivers in the Camping World Truck Series in only her sixth start. She was also just six places behind Kyle Busch, the man who won the 2009 Snowball Derby from a third place starting spot behind pole sitter Long.
Long’s win was aided by the team’s decision to call her in for new tyres on lap 290 whilst leader Donnie Wilson stayed out. The 5 Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Long’s hometown, is notorious for destroying tyres and whilst so many drivers were hoping theirs would hold out to the end Long knew she would have the advantage over them with her fresh rubber.
Question was would she have the time to be able to get back to the front runners?
She worked her way from the middle of the pack towards the front, coping with four caution periods along the way and finally on lap 313 she followed Landon Cassill past then leader Wilson on the inside. Three laps later she was past Cassill as her tyres gave her better traction. She kept the lead through two more yellow flag periods, made perfect restarts and held on for the $22,500 winner’s cheque.
15-year-old Chase Elliott, son of popular NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, was one of the many drivers who lost out to Long after his tyres went away killing off his chance of an unprecedented sweep after winning the Snowflake 100 Derby on Saturday night. But the Snowball was a tough race all round. Of the thirty seven starters just twelve finished and of those just eight were on the lead lap.
Before Long could acknowledge the congratulations of her family, friends and the spectators she had, as she was about to celebrate one of her biggest wins, there was just one thing to do first. Phone her sister who was in hospital about to give birth, and to cap what must have been a truly memorable night for the Long family, Johanna became an aunt before the night was out.
Although Long has strengthened her reputation during 2010 it has not been the season she would have hoped for and was winless until last night, but her confidence has never wavered. “I knew the team was working hard, they wanted the win as much as I did. We finally did it. It’s an emotional win, it’s just awesome seeing that crowd’s reaction . . . It’s amazing.”
In 2009 Long was the first female winner in the Blizzard Super Late Model Series, Blizzard Series Champion, and Pro Late Model track record holder at Mobile, Alabama. Those who have worked with her are impressed by her thirst for knowledge and her eagerness to learn. Last night’s win was no flash in the pan, and her gender is not relevant, Long is the real deal future of racing as is Chase Elliott.