"My dad told me to do my due diligence," Long says. "I didn't even know what that meant. So I called up everybody who would take my call and told them, 'I can chase the Formula 1 dream a little longer or I can sign this sports car deal.' And every single person said to me, 'Are you an idiot? Sign the fricking deal.'" He smiles. "I never looked back. I never said, 'I beat Danica. I beat Sam Hornish. I beat Fernando Alonso.' I'm just so lucky to be where I am. In 2003, I attended Le Mans as a spectator, and I thought to myself, 'I wonder if I'll get a chance to race here one day.' And literally twelve months later, I was on the top step at the podium."
Long rifles around the banking at Daytona at 185 mph during the Saturday morning test session. "You are still quickest," comes a call over the radio as his red-and-silver GT3 flashes past start/finish and dives down into the infield. "Forty-nine six. Pace is good."
As a factory driver, Long is subcontracted out to whatever team Porsche wants him to drive for. For 2012, he's been assigned to partner longtime teammate Joerg Bergmeister at Flying Lizard in ALMS. He'll also run a handful of one-off races, such as the Rolex 24, where he and Bergmeister will be joined by Audi factory driver Mike Rockenfeller and team owner Seth Neiman.
Long could just as easily have ended up at Alex Job Racing, where he did two seasons in Daytona Prototypes earlier in his career. "When I requested a driver from Porsche, Patrick was my first choice," Alex Job says. "The thing that made him special was that he went over to Europe at a very young age. I don't think Europe has more talent than the United States. But the culture is much tougher, and I think it breeds more hunger into the driver."
Long prides himself on excelling in difficult conditions, whether on cold tires or a challenging racetrack. "He's particularly good in qualifying on street circuits, and he's as strong technically as anybody I've ever worked with," says Flying Lizard chief strategist Thomas Blam. "But if there's one thing that comes to mind about him, it's tenacity -- his ability to withstand pressure from behind and get by somebody when it counts."
Long's aggression doesn't always endear him to his rivals, and he's left a bunch of bruised feelings along with damaged cars in various paddocks. "He's got red hair. He's a little hard to manage sometimes," Job says indulgently. Adds Neiman: "Patrick can be pretty explosive. But if you're just a machine, you don't succeed in racing. The sport is too emotional. You have to have a passion for it."
Long has spent virtually his entire life at racetracks. Naturally, after two decades of nearly nonstop competition, he gets tired of the grind, and there are times he'd rather be hanging with his girlfriend or chilling on a wakeboard. But Long subscribes to the racing-is-life credo articulated by an earlier Porsche icon, Steve McQueen.
"The day that racing doesn't pay the bills anymore, I'll still be racing," Long says. "It's what makes me the happiest. It's not always about champagne and money. It's about getting behind the wheel. It's that feeling of sitting on a tire on a brisk, cold morning, talking about racing with the guys at the track. That's what I've always done, and that's what I'll always do. I'll make my money in racing, and I'll probably spend every bit of it in racing."
Long is carving through Malibu Canyon in a 4.0-liter 911 GT3 RS he's borrowed from Porsche. These are the hairpins and switchbacks he drove as a teenager from his home in the San Fernando Valley to the surf beaches around Malibu. His pace is sedate; he doesn't want to hustle over a blind crest and clip a biker. Plus, he gets all the excitement he needs in a race car. Or so he says.
Still, when he sees a tunnel, he checks to make sure nobody's around, brakes briskly to a stop, opens the windows, snicks the Alcantara gearshift lever into first, feeds in some throttle, and dumps the clutch. The RS slithers forward with a glorious crescendo of flat-six mayhem blasting off the walls of the tunnel. "The extra torque of the four-liter really makes a difference," he shouts with a grin. "Plus, it sounds awesome when it comes on the cam."
Long will probably run about thirty races this year. Besides ALMS, he's looking at Porsche rides at Daytona, Le Mans, and the Nuerburgring. He's also hoping to race in Australia in a V8 Supercar, in NASCAR in a Nationwide car, in Latin America in a touring car, and possibly on the dirt at Du Quoin in an ARCA stock car. With few exceptions, though, he'll rarely be in cars that can compete for overall wins.
If Long had been born thirty or forty years earlier, when Porsche was building 917s, 935s, 956s, and 962s instead of focusing on GT-class 911s, his mantel might be groaning under the weight of Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring trophies. Or who knows? If funding hadn't been a prerequisite for advancement, maybe he'd be in Formula 1 today. Long shrugs when asked about the roads not taken.
"I don't feel like there are any holes in my trophy case," he says. "This may sound complacent, but I don't know what Formula 1 would bring me. All I ever wanted to do was race cars for a living. It's not about making a lot of money or having my name in the record book. I love what I'm doing, and I want to be able to do it for a long time. So I want to keep refining what I have, not only on the track but also representing Porsche around the world."
Which is why he's giving a thrill ride in a GT3 RS during a brief sojourn in Southern California before returning to Daytona. And visiting sponsors in Corona and Orange County. And meeting with a Hollywood producer. And doing a rare day of private coaching at Willow Springs International Raceway. Not merely filling time but looking for opportunities.
"My biggest fear is having any regrets," he says. "My second-biggest fear used to be being broke. Now, it's being bored. I realize that I can't race forever, and I'm going to have to enter the real world at a certain point. That's why I do more than go to the gym and drive race cars on the weekend. I want to build something now for the future while people still answer my calls because I'm a racing driver."
He hangs a left onto the Pacific Coast Highway. To the west, waves are breaking lazily at First Point, and you can't help but think that Patrick Long is right where he wants to be.
Patrick Long at a glanceBorn: July 28, 1981
Thousand Oaks, California
Residence: Belleair, Florida
Speaks English, Italian (fluently), German, and French (both conversationally)
Major AccomplishmentsThree-time American Le Mans Series champion. Two-time class winner at Le Mans. Class winner in the Rolex 24 and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Pirelli World Challenge champion.
1998: First American in twenty years to win an international kart race 1999: Elf Formula Campus scholarship winner
2000: Skip Barber scholarship winner
2001: British Formula Ford vice champion
2002: Red Bull Driver Search finalist
2003: Joins Porsche junior team
2004: 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner
2005: Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring class winner
2006: Petit Le Mans class winner
2007: 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner
2008: Drove Porsche RS Spyder for Penske Racing
2009: Rolex 24 class winner
2010: ALMS GT2 champion
2011: Pirelli World Challenge champion