Q&A: Porsche Factory Driver Patrick Long Talks Karting & Cars
Few drivers match the pedigree that Patrick Long has when it comes to sports car racing. A Porsche factory driver since 2003, and currently the ONLY North American driver for the legendary marque, Long has racked up an impressive resume over the years: two-time Pirelli World Challenge GT Driver’s Champion (2011, 2017), three-time American Le Mans Series GT2 Driver’s Champion (2005, 2009, 2010), Class 12 Winner in the 2013 Baja 1000, Patron Endurance Cup Driver’s Champion in 2014, two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner, two-time 12 Hours of Sebring winner, three-time Petit Le Mans winner, 24 Hours of Daytona winner – shall we go on?
He just recently won the IMSA SportsCar Series race at Road America this past weekend in the GTD class with co-driver Christina Nielsen in a Porsche 911 GT3R. And if all this wasn’t enough, every year he and buddy/graphic artist/ex-pro-karter Howie Idleson puts on one of the biggest Porsche shows – Luftgekühlt – which celebrates the air-cooled era of Porsche and the amazing car culture that’s stemmed from them.
We caught up with Patrick Long during the Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Legends Tour earlier this year, where he was showcasing his 1958 356 A Coupe (read more about it in this interview). What follows is a transcript of our fantastic conversation:
Pat, we’re going to go back to your roots a bit. Obviously, your karting record is incredibly impressive. Let’s go way back though – do you remember the first time you stepped into a go-kart?
I remember the year, I remember the go-kart. I’ve never been asked that! It was 1986, it was a $75 garage sale purchase, spontaneous garage sale purchase – a Christmas gift. There was a backyard in Agoura Hills, California – an undeveloped track home, spec home, that hadn’t been built out and just had a dirt backyard. My dad was a finish carpenter so he was babysitting me at six years old, and he put two cones in the backyard, and he would go finish a staircase inside the house, and I would drive circles and burn a hole in the backyard driving this go-kart. It had a 3hp Briggs & Stratton on it, one-wheel drive.
So was that your first foray behind the wheel then of anything peppy?
I had been on a (Honda) ATC in Pismo (Pismo Beach, CA), I had been on the handlebars of a dirt bike at Indian Dunes. I had an uncle who always had something motorized in the garage and I was attracted to that. My dad and my uncle grew up with a hot-rodding dad in Burbank in the 50s and 60s, he owned a gas station. So, the enthusiast side of it was in my blood. Nothing other than owning a gas station was a profession.
Haha, I see! Do you remember your first time actually competing in go-kart racing, and how you did? How you fared? Was it a bit of challenge or did it come naturally for you?
I remember the day. It was in Oxnard, 1990. You had to be eight years old to race then. You only had full-scale go-karts – no cadets, no baby karts. So, my pedals were behind the tire rods, it was a modified Margay dirt kart that a midget driver, Robby Flock, owned. It had a stock Briggs on it, and we were just a start up class at Jim Hall Gold Coast Karters regular events in the late 80s and 90s. I have a video of it, actually, somewhere – I haven’t seen it in 20 years, but yeah, I was pumped. I had to have a “B” average in school, and I had to be at the age of eight. And I hit those things, and I got a hand-me-down go-kart and ended up in Oxnard.
We went to weigh-in before qualifying and we were five pounds under. So my dad took his Arai helmet bag – cos he was racing as well – and filled it with lead shot which I used to fill the frame rails with, and I went out in qualifying sitting on an Arai blue vinyl helmet bag of lead shot. And a seat bolt that it was sitting on had rubbed a hole in it. So, it spit BBs out all the way around the track on my one qualifying lap, and it eventually fell out completely. And the next guy who went out for his one lap, went down into the Edison corner at Oxnard and spun and went, like, twenty feet off the track! So, I have very vivid memories. I had an open face motorcycle helmet on, with goggles. We had a jet ski trailer, with a piece of plywood on it to cover the two runs, and we tied those go-karts together on that jet-ski trailer and towed it with a single-cab Ford Ranger. Our dads were up front driving it, and Phil Giebler and I used to sit in beach chairs, in the back of the truck with a camper shell, on the way to the track. And we drove to Bakersfield, we drove to Santa Maria. My third race that I ever did, was the IKF Grand Nationals in Santa Maria. My third ever race and I was in the Nationals, and I think I qualified in the top ten! Randy, who was the founder of Pro Line Chassis, this is really old you’re gonna cut all this out..
No, no! I’m gonna keep it all!
He gave me a go-kart. He was in Simi Valley, I lived in Agoura. We brought him over the Margay go-kart to have him put it on the scales, cos it was so tweaked. It used to run at Ascot on the oval, and he’s like, “This thing is so fat, I’m going to give you a brand-new chassis to use at the Grand Nationals. So we went up with a brand new Pro Line chassis and I think we qualified like tenth or eleventh out of like a bazillion junior four-stroke go-karts. And Paul Edwards was the guy to beat because he was local, and there was a long list of girls – Sara Senske! Sara Senske was a pretty bad-ass go-karter. She came to throw down. And I remember she’s starting behind me, and my dad has a VHS camcorder video of it, and she is wearing my bumper out on the (expletive) pace lap, she is just hammering me, like you could see my head going back – I’m eight years old, she’s probably like 12 – so just wild stories like that. Wild stories.
A year later we went to Marshalltown, IA. I think it was the first time I’d ever been out of state and we finished second there. David Stover, who was like “the kid” back then. He was in Sports Illustrated for Kids, I remember reading about him as an elementary school kid, going to the library, and seeing go-karts and Sports Illustrated for Kids and thinking, “Holy (expletitive)!”. I finished second and that was a National at 9 years old – all four-stroke. I didn’t drive a two-stroke until two years later, and we won the two-stroke nationals at Riverside in ’91. We ended up winning the Duffy. So at 10 years old, I had my first national championship. At that time we were already onto Italian karts, so we had gone to CRG, Cali kart with Mike Manning for ’92 at Adams.
I gotcha, cool! And then, obviously you went on to amazing successes in karting. Just run through some of the highlights of your karting career.
Yeah, I think national championships through junior ranks. And then I really only did like two years of senior karting and then I was gone. So, national championships at a Formula A level, Constructor’s Cup which was the pedigree then. My dad was one of the few guys who really wanted to bring European rules to the US, so that we would stand a better chance over in Europe. I went to Europe for the first time as a 14-year-old and it was such a jump, with tires and horsepower and rules and aggression, that they wanted to bring that back and introduce it to the local Region 7 IKF paddock. So, all of European karting started in Region 7 with J Cup for the Juniors, there was Super 100, direct-drive 100cc rotary type stuff back in the 90s, but in the late 90s, to bring a European sporting scene to Region 7 and then to WKA Constructor’s Cup, that was the national side. Internationally, finishing second at a Belgium Championship round as a 14-year-old was a big success for me. Winning the Winter Cup in ’98, which was the first big race of the year in Europe, where everybody is there. First American to win an international karting race in 20 years. That’s my proudest moment in karting. I never believed I could win in Europe.
Really? Why is that?
Because my competitors were kids that had done it at that level on those tracks their whole life. I mean, I remember lining up on the same row in ’96, my first international karting race, with Fernando Alonso. That guy was a beast – he’d been trained to only do that. And so those types of moments, you know, being a factory driver for CRG, living and working full-time for the brand, moving away from home as a junior in high school, my roommate was Ryan Briscoe, those memories are just huge. I was in races with Max Orsini, Davide Fore, and Danilo Rossi – I mean Italian championship races where you’re racing against your heroes, I mean the guys you read in Vroom Magazine. That was, to me, probably as big of a stage as lining up against Helio Castroneves or Tom Kristensen in the moment for the age and the scale of the coolness and awe factor, those days racing in Italy and karting are still the most memorable for me in my whole career.
Really! That’s incredible, wow. How often are you able to get back behind the wheel of a kart these days? Do you still use it as practice?
Well, I did regularly right until I became an event promoter (along with Howie Idleson, Long is responsible for the ever-growing annual Luftgekuhlt festival honoring air-cooled Porsches), and then I lost a lot of novelties in my life. You know, I try to do the Machismo (12-Hour Kart Race at CalSpeed) as much as I can. It’s really fun. Last year I did it with three of Red Bull’s young drivers – all young and up and coming prospects. We had a single team. I’m a small side of the athlete team at Red Bull, so that was fun. I still own my first go-kart. I still own my first championship-winning go-kart, that go-kart from ’91, I still have my Constructor’s Cup – my final championship – go-kart as well as a kart that I made a comeback, after six years of being out of (kart) racing, I came back to the Super Nationals in 2004, and I trained for six months racing locally to be ready for the Super Nationals, cos I was not going to miss the final. I wasn’t going there to win. But I was not going to go in the consolation race and, you know there were some big name race car guys were getting bounced out of the final, so I kept that kart. So I have all those karts and when I have the time, I will have those go-karts in a some type of survivors restoration. I don’t want them to be like museum pieces, but I’ve kept a lot of the parts. I have all my boxes of stickers, I was always a sticker kid, I’ve saved every race suit I’ve ever had, so one day I’ll have my own little shrine.
Yeah, you gotta have the Patrick Long Karting Museum or something..
Well, not a museum! It’ll be a personal shrine. It’ll be a “Hall of Arrogance”.
Now what would you say to these kids that come into K1 Speed, love the experience, and think, “Wow, maybe this could be my job when I grow up..” what advice would you give them?
Well, first of all, I only wish I had the access to indoor karting as an aspiring driver – that is an amazing resource, because a lot of people don’t have the finances or the space or the resources – trucks and trailers, and mechanics, and chains, and sprockets – so that is an amazing resource to learn racecraft, to learn the physical and mental demands of how tough it actually is. And laps. Seat time is a term I knew from a very young age. Utilize that opportunity, be thankful for it, because it wasn’t around 20 years ago (in America). It was in Europe! I remember the first time, back to that Belgian experience. I went to an indoor karting track in Belgium near Genk, and I thought to myself, “This is cooler than what I actually do on the international racing level!” it was just so awesome. So that part of it is, not blowing smoke, there’s no paid endorsement here, is just an awesome experience.
Past that, focus on your mental when you’re out there. Don’t only go for the best lap time, look at consistency. Can you bang off ten laps in a row within a tenth of a second? That’s what’s going to make the difference. Can you sustain pressure from behind? It’s easy to be fast, following somebody fast. But can you lead mistake-free with pressure: physical, mental, people on your bumper, people closing in on you, people quicker than you, can you keep them behind you without breaking the rules? Those types of mentalities are what separates the pros from the non-pros. Speed is like third in line. The racecraft, the mental stability, the willingness to prepare, the willingness to do your homework in the week when no one is watching, when there are no lap times, when there are no social media postings. Know that there are a lot of guys out there today that made a living in racing because they worked harder for it than the guys who were the most talented or were the fastest.
That’s so good, Pat. I think a lot of our readers could benefit from that. What’s your favorite race track to drive at and why?
I have a lot of favorites, and not many I don’t like. But right now, I’m really high on Bathurst in Australia (Mount Panorama). It’s a temporary track, but a beast of a temporary track. Check out the highlights on YouTube, and you’ll understand. It’s the one racetrack where there’s multiple corners where all you’re doing is decelerating the least. You make your time through rhythm and staying off the brake pedal. It’s not about acceleration, it’s not about traction. It’s about the kid in you who went down a canyon on a skateboard and didn’t drag his feet. A guy on a BMX bike who used less brake than his competitor. That element in racing at a professional level doesn’t exist, but a few sections of the Nordschliefe at the Nurburgring and a lot at Bathurst. And that’s just one element at Bathurst, I can go on and on about Bathurst. But that place, plus the ambience and the culture of Australian racing is unbelievable.
State-side: Road America, Road Atlanta, Long Beach, Laguna Seca. Europe: Spa, Nurburgring, how can you argue with that? I mean one of my greatest memories. I only raced once at Monaco, unreal. So tough.
The most difficult track is the Nordschliefe at Nurburgring, followed closely by Monaco. So tight, so blind, such high risk, zero… I mean, simulators, online racing, even indoor karting, there is an allowance of overdriving and mistakes. One thing that becomes different in the real racecar world, is that amount of speed that you are taking – if you slip up, the car is toast. The week is over, and your job is on the line. So back to that element of practicing consistency, walking the line between fast and brave and brave and stupid, is a fine line.
And again, it’s not just about speed, as much as people want to tell you that. The heroes of this sport, the Sennas of the world, those guys can put it on the edge quickly, one-track wonder, local track phenoms. The guys who can go to a track, jump in a car they don’t know, and go right to the limit – that’s what you want to practice.
Right, exactly. Speaking of Senna – any idols you looked up to growing up as inspiration?
Oh, I mean the list is long. I grew up watching short track oval racing, so I was a midget sprint car guy – Ron Shuman, “Sleepy” Tripp. I was a big Robby Gordon fan, as a middle schooler because Robby was like the new-age AJ Foyt: he didn’t give a dang, he said and did what he wanted. I was able to meet him through local friends and he was always great to youngsters. You loved him or you hated him, but he could drive anything fast, and he was exciting. When I look back now, I idolize somebody like Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant – Americans who went to Europe and did it, and did it right, and did it with class. You know, being successful is one thing. But being successful and classy – that’s who I look up to.
Well, I think you’ve set a good example and have carried that forward yourself there, Pat..
I’m one speck of pepper in what the world of real legends in this sport have done, but they still inspire me.
Absolutely. Let’s actually talk about your racing career briefly. You’ve had so many endurance race victories and the like, but out of all of them you’ve done is there one that stands out as the one where you can say, “that’s the best race I’ve ever driven.”?
(Pauses as he thinks) Umm.. the “come from behind” victories. The underdog and unexpected victories are the ones that I love.
And with that in mind, then.. any of those particular ones that stand out?
Le Mans.. it’s hard to beat the post-race experience of Le Mans. The Rolex 24.. those are amazing, but I think some the wins in domains that I’m not a fixture in are probably the biggest high, so maybe they are my most favorite. Baja 1000, winning an ARCA race in a NASCAR, or winning a K&N West Series race. You know, when you show up to somebody else’s sandbox, those ones are where I scream the loudest by myself that night just when I walk in the hotel room, and think, “that was epic.”.
Very cool. Are there any racecars from the past that you haven’t had the chance to drive that you’d love to get behind the wheel of?
I’ve been so lucky. About ten years ago, I went on a tear to try and leverage my relationships and get a chance to drive a lot of cool stuff. So I’ve been able to check off a massive amount of bucket list items: full-fuel 1,000hp NASCARs, Baja, V8 Supercars, Global Rallycross, full non-wing 360 Sprint Cars on the dirt, factory Honda Super Moto bike, there’s not much.. a Formula One car – I’ve got to sample a lot of cool stuff. Maybe, maybe right in front of my nose – a Porsche 917/30, Mark Donohue and the famous Sonoco Can-Am car. Over 1,000 horsepower, open-top, that’s pretty much my wish list right now. But nothing else on top of my head.
Who owns that? Bruce Canepa?
Um.. Rob Kaufmann.
Oh, so you just need to talk to him, then..
Yeah, he offered me.. this year at Amelia (Amelia Island Concours), he said, “Do you want to drive the car?” and I just kind of smirked and said, “yes please.” So maybe one day! So I have a goal to drive the Walker Racing IndyCar from CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) which is Porsche-powered, Quaker State (sponsored), (driven by) Teo Fabi, Mid-Ohio winning car. That’s a bucket list for me. I’ve never driven a CART Champ Car from the 90s – that to me is the heyday of inspiration from the racing side.
Oh yeah. I’d certainly be jealous. What’s your daily driver right now?
This (pointing to the Porsche pictured below).
This! Let’s hear a little bit more about this car.
This is a 1958 356 A Coupe. It’s got a four-cylinder engine. Just old-school four and a half-inch wheel, it’s not a lot of rubber. Not a lot of brakes – drum brakes. It’s a survivor. People at the gas station, they either high-five me and ask me if they can buy it, or they like give me the rest of their leftover lunch because they think I’m homeless. So, you really don’t know what it is.
It’s kinda “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, like Beverly Hillbillies. But it was found in a field and restored underneath mechanically but left aesthetically alone. It just makes me smile to drive it. You gotta pump the brakes. You work up a sweat driving it. You have to double clutch it to downshift it. It’s everything I fell in love with racing and driving a four-stroke go-kart in a daily driver version.
That’s so cool! Now what’s the jewel of your garage, or is this your jewel?
This is definitely my most prized four-wheel car. A silver 356 that I didn’t have to worry about driving or a chip or dent, but mechanically was rock-solid – that was my dream car. So I played the field by buying cars, fixing them up, and selling them to be able to get this car.
I have a ’72 911 in a color called aubergine – a lot of readers would be familiar with. It’s a deep purple. In some light it looks black, in some light it looks purple. Most of the time it’s something in-between. Eggplant is what it translates into. For me, that’s like 70s rock n’ roll – not giving a f – you know. It’s got a real sort of 2-7 RS underside to it, but it looks like a stock ’72 911. I’m big into sleepers, where they celebrate originality to the eye, but I like to modify cars from the seat outward, so everything you feel and touch from the driver’s seat – handling, horsepower, internal aesthetics, brake feel – to me, modifying cars should come from the driver and resonate out. Versus taking a car that looks the part, but none of the other experiences measure up to the aesthetic. That, to me, is backwards.
Who’s the biggest rival that has been in your career?
Oh, rivals – woo! There’s a seriously long list there. A karting guy who’s one of the toughest I’ve ever raced against and I’ve raced against him as recently as this year is Alvaro Parente. That guy is a bull. He has such savvy racecraft, natural speed, but he races with class. He walks the line with aggression, but he’s a guy that I really respect.
Phil Giebler is a guy that I started racing with on the first day of my racing career. My dad and his dad were friends and work colleagues, and we got them interested in karting, and we all started on the same day together with s***box go-karts.
I’ve gone hammer and tongs with Joey Hand – I don’t send him a Christmas card, he doesn’t send me one, but I respect him. Same with Scott Speed – respect the hell outta Scott. You know, AJ Allmendinger…I respect those guys, they pushed me to being a better driver, and I believe they’ve solidified their position in all different areas of the sport.
Did you enjoy this interview? We’ve talked karting with racers such as Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi, Jordan Taylor, and Josef Newgarden. Click the button below to read them!