With his black Troy lee Designs T-shirt, skateboard sneakers, and male-model good looks, Patrick Long doesn't fit the usual Olive Garden demographic. He's also something of a foodie, and he speaks Italian fluently, which is probably more than you can say for anybody working in the kitchen. He'd planned to eat someplace more upscale here in Daytona Beach, but it's prime time on a Friday night, and the restaurant was mobbed. "This is fine," he says when he strolls into the ersatz Italian foyer. "When I was racing in NASCAR, I learned to eat anything."
Three weeks from now, Long will race a Porsche 911 GT3 for Flying Lizard Motorsports in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Although this is the biggest race on the Grand-Am schedule, sports car racing plays to minuscule audiences in North America, and participants far outnumber paying spectators at this weekend's test session. Nobody at the Olive Garden pays any attention to Long during dinner. Until the waiter drops off the bill. "My boss recognized you," he says, sounding chagrined that he hadn't recognized Long himself. "Stay on the track, and good luck in the race."
Long is the public face of Porsche motorsports in the United States. Worldwide, Porsche employs nine factory race car drivers, but Long is the only American. "I have a different role within the factory team because the U.S. is so passionate about Porsche and there's such a thriving Porsche community here," he says. "I haven't even cracked the surface of meeting all the Porsche-philes out there and sharing stories with them. It's not part of the job description per se, but I've made it a huge part of my life. If I drove for another manufacturer, I'd have only one or two chances to do an auto show or a new car launch. But at Porsche, I could fill 365 days a year with activities."
Job One, obviously, is racing. Since joining Porsche in 2003, Long has scored class wins in the Triple Crown of endurance racing -- Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring -- as well as overall victories in cars ranging from Daytona Prototypes to the 911 GT3 R Hybrid. So he's proven himself worthy of entree to a select American fraternity of Porsche factory drivers that includes legends such as Dan Gurney, Peter Gregg, Al Holbert, and Hurley Haywood. At the same time, Long has also insinuated himself into the corporate culture by representing Porsche at events designed to burnish the brand. "Patrick is a great communicator who can talk to customers as easily as he can talk to race engineers," says Jens Walther, president and CEO of Porsche Motorsport North America. "That makes him a perfect ambassador for Porsche."
At thirty, Long still exudes a boyish passion for racing, and his role as Porsche poster child is well served by his sunny, all-American image. He grew up in suburban Los Angeles in a hotbed of surfers (like his father) and skateboarders (his brother, Kevin, is a top pro). But despite his all-American persona, Long attributes his success in racing to moving to Europe while he was in high school. Not only did that pit him against the best karters in the world, but it also demonstrated how committed he was to making racing his career.
Long can't remember a time when he wasn't obsessed with racing. When he was four, he started attending races with his Uncle Pat, a motocross rider and demolition-derby competitor. "I was at Ascot every Thursday night watching speedway, and Saturday night the World of Outlaws, and Sunday night demolition derby," Long says. "I remember my mom saying, 'I'll buy you a new Nintendo game if you stay home this weekend.' And I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? The World of Outlaws is in town. I'm gone. See ya.' And my uncle would be outside honking the horn."
When he was five, Long's Christmas present was a hand-welded go-kart that his father and uncle picked up for $75 at a garage sale. He started racing when he was eight, won his first national championship when he was ten, raced in Europe for the first time when he was fourteen. The next year, while he was a junior in high school, he moved to a small town near Lake Garda, in the heart of Italian kart country, to race -- and work in the shop -- for kart-chassis manufacturer CRG. There, Long learned to speak Italian and underwent his baptism by fire.
"The racing was self-policing -- boys have at it, an eye for an eye," he says. "Even before the green flag, you had to fight just to hold onto your grid spot. In the U.S., we have the mentality that every kid gets a trophy. In Europe, three-quarters of the field goes home before the final. Crashing was such a regular thing that you had to learn how to pick your battles and protect your kart. I also understood that it was important to pick up the language and immerse myself in the culture of the team I was racing for. It helps you with the little things -- making people laugh in their own language and knowing if they're talking shit about you. It was also critical to show my team that I wasn't just there on vacation. I was there to win."
Long became the first American in twenty years to win an international kart race in Europe. This led to a fully paid Elf Formula Campus scholarship. He moved to Le Mans, learned French, and finished third in the series championship in his first season racing cars. Next came two years in England and several impressive wins in Formula Fords, plus a Skip Barber scholarship back in the States. Formula 1 was his goal, but Long couldn't raise the money he needed to take the next step up the ladder. Then, providentially, the much-ballyhooed Red Bull Driver Search came out of nowhere, and he was one of the fifteen finalists who competed in a shoot-out for what was ultimately supposed to be a shot at Formula 1. Long was devastated when he didn't make the cut. (Scott Speed got the gig and rode it all the way to F1.) But Porsche liked what they'd seen of Long during the two-month-long Red Bull media circus. After testing him in a 911 Carrera Cup car and subjecting him to a battery of interviews, Porsche offered him a slot on its junior team. The contract would give him the security of a full-time job racing sports cars, but it would close the door on F1.