ST. PETERSBURG — Patrick Long is the greatest American race car driver you know nothing about.
At 26, the Belleair resident has twice won class championships at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and was the first American since 1999 to be a part of an American Le Mans Series GT2 championship. One of 10 drivers on retainer to Porsche's vaunted factory operation, he's now plying his trade for Roger Penske's ALMS team and will make his second start Saturday.
As a kid growing up in California, he followed NASCAR star Jeff Gordon. But he dreamed of racing the Baja 1,000, the Dakar Rally, IndyCars. Everything. He's more a new-age Parnelli Jones or Mario Andretti than an impatient talent grabbing for glory and cash. Better meet Patrick Long while you can.
How did you end up living in our area after being born in Thousand Oaks, Calif.?
I lived in Las Vegas for a while but I am not really a Las Vegas person. So much of our season is here, either in the starting of it or the ending of it, and it's such a different pace here I decided to stay. And I have family here. My mother (Claudia) is from Safety Harbor.
You've acquired such a resume at a young age, what are your goals now?
My goal was to be with a factory team by 30 and I've already accomplished that at 26, so I am happy. I have time to see what I want to eventually do. For me it's not about paychecks. I want to have fun and find some challenges and really see what I can do, because the people you respect are really the ones who try a lot of things. A driver can sit there in one kind of racing and find his niche and be good for years, but I want to try out as many things and see what I can really be good at.
What was it like to find out you were working for Roger Penske?
Amazing. He had flown to Germany for a dinner Porsche was having and I had heard already that I would be driving for him, but he found me in the crowd to see who this guy was and it was pretty impressive. … There is no small talk with Roger Penske. Everything is about business and making cars go fast. When you come to the racetrack and you're using equipment that Roger Penske has given you, any driver, there is no doubt in your mind that you have the best stuff to be successful in.
So when you were 16, living in Italy racing for a karting team, you met someone who has since crossed paths with you again?
I lived in an apartment they'd built above the factory — 24-hour factory. We went to bed at night to the sound of the machines and woke up to it. My roommate was Ryan Briscoe, and now he's my teammate again at Team Penske.