PENSACOLA, Fla. -- NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Johanna Long says she gets the chills just at the mention of the words, "Snowball Derby" and hopes that a second victory in her favorite race will catapult her back into the national spotlight.
Long already had made several starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2010 prior to winning that year's Derby. But the victory solidified her place as a top prospect in the same way that Derby victories have for Chase Elliott and Erik Jones in the years since.
While Long has raced in the Derby every year since 2008, her primary focus has been in Nationwide, where she has scored an average finish of 23.5 in a part-time role for ML Motorsports. Her two-year deal ended at the end of the season and the Pensacola native seems unsure of her future.
"We've talked to a lot of teams and sponsors just trying to figure it out," Long said. "Do I have anything planned yet? No -- but we're working hard to get us out there next year. I'm doing everything in my possible way to keep me in a race car."
For now, Long has returned her full focus towards the Snowball Derby as a win on Sunday could propel her back into the forefront just as her 2010 triumph had. And her team has stacked the deck in her favor, reuniting Long with long-time crew chief Freddie Query, who had worked with the Longs since Johanna was just 14-years-old.
"Having Freddie back means a lot for me," Long said. "He's like a second dad. It means a lot to me for my career. He was with me when I was 14 years old so it's like getting the band back together."
A little known fact about Query is that he is a certified school teacher, an approach that he has applied with various prospects like Long, Kyle Benjamin and Harrison Burton. Long says she is comforted by Query and his attention to detail, something that will be especially beneficial for a driver looking to rediscover her short track rhythm.
Not that Long expects any rust. This is her home track and childhood home, after all.
"I've been racing at Five Flags Speedway since I was thirteen years old, so once I get on that racetrack I can probably drive with my eyes shut," she said.
Long's sole victory in the Snowball Derby came in 2010 when she spun leader Landon Cassill out for the lead on the next-to-last restart of the race. While she hopes to win a second Tom Dawson Trophy under less controversial circumstances, Long says has no regrets about how the race played out, citing the importance of winning the event.
"You're going to do everything in your power to make it happen," Long said of winning the race. "I made a move. Should I have waited? Probably, but that was my opportunity that I had to make and I went for it."
Long hopes to be in a similar position in the closing laps of the 2013 event -- and with Freddie Query back on top of the pit box, Johanna Long could become the next big thing in racing...again.
Continuing coverage of the Snowball Derby can be found on the Ranting and Raving short track blog. Visit our Facebook page for all the updates and links to our stories leading up to the Super Bowl of Short Track Racing.
The complete conversation between Long and SB Nation reporter Matt Weaver can be viewed below.