Panhandle Motorsports announces plans to race the entire 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule, beginning with the first four NASCAR-sanctioned events. 18-year-old driver from the Panhandle stable, Johanna Long - fresh off a successful learning season in the NCWTS and a confidence-building historic win at the 43rd Annual Snowball Derby - will pilot the No. 20 Panhandle Motorsports Toyota Tundra.
Long, the youngest female Derby champion and only the second to win the prestigious “Superbowl of Short Track Racing” trophy, is returning to the NCWTS with two goals in mind - to continue to gain experience at the 25 Series tracks, many of which are a first time for the young driver; and to race for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in 2011. She will begin by cutting her teeth at some of the most challenging tracks of the Series - Daytona International Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway, Darlington Raceway and Martinsville Speedway.
“Every track that I go to, I strive to soak in and gain as much experience as I can - and that's exactly what we did last year,” said Long. “We had our ups and downs, and that led to a lot of learning experiences in NASCAR. This year is about moving forward and soaking in as much experience as I can, as well as being in contention for the Rookie of the Year title. It's a huge commitment to run a full season, but hopefully we can put ourselves out there enough while continuing to knock on doors to attract marketing dollars. We're still actively seeking out marketing partners to round out the year, but we'll be doing our best to get to every single racetrack on the 2011 schedule in order to make that rookie dream happen.”
Continuing the national Girl Scouts of the USA partnership this year - with over 4 million young women in empowering programs across the world - Long will also continue to inspire local Girl Scouts in each city she races. The groundbreaking teenage driver will continue to speak about her journey in motorsports, hard work and determination in whatever they choose to do in life. She will also have her “honorary pit crew” members cross the stage with her at driver introductions at various racetracks.
“I'm extremely blessed to have the opportunity to do what I love to do and be able to race at tracks that I've only dreamed about - such as Daytona,” Long continued. “From the beginning of my career, I was always told that it wasn't about gender - it's all about being a competitor. That's exactly how I see myself continuing this season. I'm looking forward to what this season brings - getting experience at new tracks as well as bringing lessons learned to the tracks I was able to run in 2010. There is a 'youth movement' that is the next generation of NASCAR, and I'm learning day by day that several people look to me to help inspire that group. I hope that I can do them justice in representing them!”
Long made seven starts in the NCWTS in 2010, in addition to 18 starts in late models and the famed Snowball Derby. A native of Pensacola, Fla., she began her racing career in go-karts at 8 years old and then moved on to Legends cars. She then made the big jump to the Pro Late Model division as a 15-year-old at her home track of Five Flags Speedway, where she won the championship and became the youngest champion in the history of the track. She went on to win three Blizzard Series races as well as the championship, along with the SUNOCO Gulf Coast Series Championship at age 17.
In 2010, she made another major jump in the racing ranks, moving to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Panhandle Motorsports - running a limited schedule to gain track knowledge and experience on the Speedways. Her season-best finish of 17th came at Indianapolis Raceway Park. She also has qualified among the top 20 in all seven of her starts, with a top qualification of 9th at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2010.
Veteran crew chief Kevin “Cowboy” Starland has all the confidence that his young driver can make her mark in the 2011 NCWTS Rookie class. “I see the drive in this girl's eyes every day,” he said. “The level of drive, determination and preparation she goes to in the quest for someday going Cup racing - I wish I could bottle that for every driver. The combination of her hunger and passion to learn and get better, paired with her innate ability and natural-born talent at 18, is really a recipe for good things in 2011. Watch out for this young driver - she's going to be a competitor this year.”