By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Perhaps the most difficult decision any successful athlete faces is when to call it quits, or at least enter the next phase of their career.
For every Tom Brady who taps into the Fountain of Youth, there’s a Johnny Unitas who hangs on that little bit too long only to become a shadow of his former self. Still others like Parnelli Jones or Nico Rosberg sense it’s best to bow out at or near the peak of their powers to focus on the next chapter of their autobiographies.
To that last list, add Patrick Long. Having accomplished everything he dreamed of during a career that saw him win most of the world’s classic sports car races, Porsche’s lone American “factory” driver revealed the 2021 Motul Petit Le Mans with Wright Motorsports would be his final start as a full-time race driver.
“I had a personal goal that I would finish my career with Porsche and evolve into something else,” says Long. “I’m trying to manifest that in what I want professionally and personally. We all have different paths. We all have different goals and we all have things that make us internally fulfilled. And racing is such a large part of that for me but it’s not my whole world. And I have to be honest with myself.”
Anyone being honest with themselves would be hard-pressed to name an American driver who has achieved more success around the world across a greater variety of platforms than Patrick Long.
Consider that, in addition to 28 IMSA wins (including the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and Motul Petit Le Mans), Long’s lengthy list of triumphs includes the 12 Hours of Bathurst, the 24 Hours of the Nurburgring and the Bahrain FIA GT as well as the first victory for the Porsche 911 GT3R Hybrid in the 1000K at Zhuhai. What’s more, his resume also includes a class win in the Baja 1000, an ARCA win at New Jersey Motorsports Park and a pair of NASCAR K&N Series victories at Portland and Miller Motorsports Park.
Selecting one or two from that list is akin to picking a favorite child, but Long opts for what might be called bookend wins in a career hearkening back to the era of the great “all ‘rounders.”
“Going to Le Mans in 2004 as a rookie and being in a big battle in GT was certainly a big memory,” he says. “Certainly, the final race of 2020 … to go into a finale at Sebring and into the dark, just a crazy restart and the final 30 minutes was an absolute sprint against guys much younger and every bit as hungry – that was a really fun one.
“And then opportunities to race and win in different disciplines; my heroes were always the guys who raced three different kinds of race cars in the same weekend, (so) I had an aspiration to learn and experience new crafts in stock cars, touring cars, off-road, etc.”
Above and beyond the victories were the relationships he established during his long associations with some of the best teams in racing, some better known than others.
“There were a number of multiyear periods with teams that allowed me to be an embedded part of the organization and build relationships,” Long says. “Certainly, Flying Lizard was a group that I grew, personally, inside of.
“Three years driving with Penske and winning Petit Le Mans in the LMP2 car for Roger, that was really special. A couple of years with Alex Job in Daytona Prototypes, one of the rare periods of my career where week-in and week-out we were racing for overall wins. I did five or six 24 Hours of Le Mans with Proton, and those were fun.
“Then to end my career – my full-time sports car career, I should say – with Porsche was a big goal of mine. This team (Wright Motorsports) I’ve been with since 2016, for 95 percent of my racing, is not as big of a name. But it’s that perfect scenario of going racing with a team of your friends – people you truly believe in but also enjoy spending time with and also finding success with. Living inside the organizations is the best part.”
Long has not driven his last race, but he plans to branch out into other activities. Make that continue to branch out, given that he co-founded the Porsche Young Driver Academy eight years ago and also took the lead in establishing a charity karting event to benefit Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. He proudly notes the event is one of the leading contributors to the hospital and takes pains to add that Sebastien Bourdais has taken over a leadership role organizing the event following Long’s move back to his native Los Angeles.
Then there’s Luftgekühlt, a series of “experiential car culture events” celebrating all things air-cooled, most especially air-cooled Porsches from the Pre-A 356 through the 993, which Long founded in 2014 together with Southern California creative director Howie Idelson.
“Creating something from scratch is always daunting,” says Long. “But from Day 1 we said the brand would make the decisions for itself based on demand, passion and people subscribing to what we’re doing. It’s opened the floodgates to a new type of car show which I describe as ‘a hipster coffee shop-meets-car gathering.’”
This new type of car show has grown to the point that a recent Los Angeles Luftgekühlt filled the Universal Studios back lot with Porsches. Nor is it restricted to the uniquely Southern California car culture, witness September’s successful Luftgekühlt in the Bottleworks District of Indianapolis.
“It’s a great way to celebrate and introduce new people to the world of Porsche,” says Long. “And it’s a lot of fun to continue telling the story about a great company that’s given me everything.”
Not to mention a great way for one of America’s successful sports car racers to continue the journey into the next chapters of his life.