March 5, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Reed Long used to be like a lot of fans who sit in the stands at Columbus Speedway and Magnolia Motor Speedway.
Long would sit and watch the races with friends and would think to himself, "I can do that. How difficult can it be to race a car?"
That question is part of the reason Long, 31, of Columbus, finally left the stands and climbed into a race car.
Now in his fourth year of racing, Long is still discovering the answer to his question isn''t as easy as you would think.
"Toward the middle of last year to the end of last year is when I made the biggest step (in my racing), and that was in my third season," Long said. "I am hoping to carry that over to this season and to continue to improve."
Long will compete in the Crate Late Model event when the Columbus Speedway Weekly Racing Series kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday.
All divisions will be in action, including the Super Late Models, Open Wheel Modifieds, Nesmith Late Models, Late Model Stocks, Street Stocks, and the new Singer division.
The race Saturday night will be the first points race of the season that will see drivers have combined points between Columbus Speedway and Magnolia Motor Speedway for the first time. The speedways are now operating under the guidance of Johnny Stokes this season.
The combined points will produce the first Columbus Racing Alliance Grand Champion for the respective divisions.
Long hopes the improvement he made last season can help him contend for a title. He said he has won three or four heat races and has finished second several times in main events, but has yet to record his initial first.
Long hopes those titles will come as he learns to become even more patient behind the wheel.
"A lot of it is timing," said Long, who owns one car. "If you go in the corner and you jab the break or stomp the break too hard it upsets the car. These cars are built to go around the race track. They are not Ford trucks, so you have to set the car up. If the car is set up right and go in the corners right it will almost turn by itself. Then you have to be able to apply the break and the gas the way you need to."
Knowing when and how to do those things is tough enough. Factoring in the logistics of the different tracks makes things double difficult.
Long said Columbus Speedway is notorious for being fast and its track is known to have a lot of grip, or bite.
On the other hand, Long said Magnolia Motor Speedway''s track is like racing on ice.
"If you get too crazy with the gas peddle or the break you will spin out in a heartbeat," Long said.
Patience is the key to avoid crashing into a wall or a competitor, or stalling out.
Long, who is self employed as a part-owner of Academy Fence, said Stokes has helped him learn the importance of patience and realize that you always don''t have to go as fast as you can. Instead, a consistent pace is ideal if you want to still be running at the end of the race.
"Patience is a big deal because you rarely win a race on the first lap in first corner," Long said. "You have to calm down and let your nerves settle down and be patient and drive the car and try to be as consistent as possible."
Long grew up about a mile from Columbus Speedway and was friends with a lot of people who went to the races. He said he went to races when he was little, but it wasn''t until he got older that he started to feel the desire to race.
Long said one of best friends, Chris McDill, started going to races several years ago and it became common for them and others to attends races or to make road trips to watch events.
The more races he attended, the more he heard himself saying or other people saying, "I can do that," so he did something about it.
He quickly realized racing a car isn''t as easy as it looks. He said Stokes helped teach him how to drive a car and stayed with him through the hard first tries.
"I got my first crate motor, a 602, for $2,900. I got a car and I made some laps and I was terrible at it," Long said. "I hit the wall, I spun out, I wrecked. At that point in time Johnny Stokes didn''t think I was going to able to go around a race track. But this past summer things started to click and I was running decent. It makes it a whole lot more fun when you''re running better."
Long stays involved in the sport despite the amount of time it takes him to work on his car and to prepare for races. He said his wife, Jessica, who works at the race track, and his daughter, Caitlyn, enjoy going to races, which makes his "hobby" that much more enjoyable.
Long also said the "family" of race car drivers has been a pleasant surprise and has made all of the hours at the track watching or competing a joy.
"I did not think I would enjoy it as much as I do," Long said. "I thought I would go out there and make a few laps and go around the race track there and it wouldn''t be a big deal.
"When you hear it said that there is a racing family, it is true. Of course there are people in the family that you''re not going to get along with all of the time, but it is still a family. ... There are a lot of people who stereotype dirt-track racing as not a high falutin''-type of sport, and a lot of people may think it is kind of country or redneck, but I am proud to be a part of it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.