Race Weekend Central

Carl Long Perseveres in Daunting Environment

When you think of independent underdogs in modern NASCAR, a few names likely come to mind. Working from almost an outsider’s perspective, an independent is any team that doesn’t have ties to manufacturer funding or data sharing agreements with one of the big NASCAR Cup Series teams.

Carl Long and his MBM Motorsports team are an ideal example of this endangered species. Nothing has come easy for Long throughout his career as a driver or owner. After several attempts to break into the Cup Series, he finally qualified for his first race, the 2000 Coca-Cola 600.

Long recalled, “It was one of the top moments that I had, getting to that level when everybody said that you couldn’t. But I let Darrell Waltrip drive the car.” After failing to qualify, the former champion raced, while the independent Long, then 32 years old, had to wait for his next opportunity.

Entering the 2004 Cup Series season, Long had made the show seven times in 41 attempts. He had another moment in the spotlight at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, N.C. Already Long was several laps down; he got swept up in a wreck and tumbled for several barrel rolls down the backstretch. Having destroyed his only car, he soon experienced a new level of attention and support from fans drawn to the underdog.

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In the years following the Rockingham wreck, NASCAR’s quintessential underdog would continue to race part-time. Sometimes for himself, sometimes for other owners, but always underfunded and independent. Then in 2009 he made his way back to the spotlight, once again in unsavory circumstances.

Long entered the All-Star exhibition race, the Sprint Showdown. After just three laps, the engine blew. A post-race inspection revealed the engine size was 0.17 cubic inches too large. The engine had been refurbished several times and was leased to Long. NASCAR dropped a 50-ton boulder. The fine was $200,000, and he had no means to pay it.

Had that fine never been handed down, Long believes he’d be in a much better place today. His voice sank at the thought: “Well, it would’ve definitely been way different. I probably would’ve been in a position to where I would’ve been issued a charter, and my life would be way different. We were on the way of, you know, building Cup cars and running Cup full-time.”

He continued to reflect: “Hell, who knows … I might’ve even been retired and had some money to put in the bank. Right now, that’s not the case.”

Long hasn’t lost his wit or sense of humor through it all. Referring to the recent fines levied on Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 14 team, he quipped, “The only record I had left in NASCAR was my fine, and now them damn people over there at Haas has to go break it!”

After the unpaid fine, Long was relegated to the Xfinity Series. His team MBM Motorsports was founded in 2014. They’ve run as many as four Xfinity cars and a Cup team beginning in 2017. In 2020, the Xfinity team finished 26th in the Owner points, a high watermark that still stands today. They’ve had some eye-opening competitive runs along the way.

At Daytona International Speedway in August of 2022, MBM had two cars finish in the top 10. Long recalls that race fondly.

Timmy Hill finishing second and JJ Yeley finishing ninth, that was probably the most proud that I had been.” Recalling how close to winning they were, “Probably would’ve won had the caution not come out. That’s gotta be the one that I felt like got away from us.” Long was on cloud nine. “I felt like I was stable.” For the 55-year-old, stability was something unfamiliar.

It wouldn’t last. Late in the 2022 season, a power surge during a storm affected his shop and led to a loss of data and his pull-down rig getting out of calibration. At Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2022, Hill qualified ninth in an MBM car. That speed provided a reference point on the pull-down rig for future intermediate tracks. But with the rig now out of calibration and with no big team data-sharing agreement, MBM had to start from scratch.

“It’s sad because people see that we’re missing races. We had problems with our pull-down machine; we lost our calibration. We had a lightning storm last year that got my computer off.”

The reduced performance that would follow, combined with more teams joining the series with more resources, led to some staff pursuing other employment and a much more difficult task to get in the show each week.

Long is very aware of the odds his team faces. Among other disadvantages, the minimal practice time each weekend has had a negative impact. Long explained: “You basically show up, practice for 10 minutes, and then you qualify, but you can’t really… changes are very minimum on the car. It has made it difficult for us.”

He suggested more practice time would actually help the smaller teams: “All of my career we showed up at the racetrack, and a good 50% of the time we was junk. We worked on the car during practice, and by the time qualifying came around, we dialed it in.”

While the practice time is the same for every team, most teams have ways to get practice time virtually through sim programs, but for MBM, with no data sharing agreement nor factory support, that isn’t on the table. The difference is monumental.

“If you unload and you pretty much got the same setup as Kyle Larson and all the JR Motorsports guys because you’re on the Chevrolet deal, you’re just gonna be doing small changes.” In comparison, MBM has 10 minutes for shakedown, an exercise of “Throwin’ the kitchen sink at it because we missed it so bad to begin with.”

The Roxboro, N.C. native looks forward to weekends with more practice time, where he feels the disadvantage is less: “In reducing (practice and labor) costs for the bigger teams, they have made it a bigger distance for any entry-level or smaller teams to get in and compete.” He takes a wider view of the consequences: “What it’s doing is deplenishing the amount of people that have the opportunity to come entry level racing into this sport.”

Improving a car during the race weekend is much different for the top teams and the back markers. “While I’m trying to get (the driver) off the track to adjust on the car, the Cup teams are hooked up live, making changes back in their war room in Charlotte,” Long said. “The engineers in Charlotte are on the radio talking to the driver and the crew chief about what they just changed on the simulator.” The divide between haves and have-nots in the sport may have never been wider than it is today.

With the new teams in the Xfinity Series and the tougher time he’s had getting into fields, Long considered entering the Cup field instead, where fields aren’t full most weeks. Despite having a Next Gen car in his shop, he’s yet to enter a Cup race in 2023.

Weighing his options, he explained: “We would be in the Cup race by showing up.” But the car isn’t ready after recent rule changes. “NASCAR sends out, you know, five pages of rules, so I gotta pull the car all the way back down to nothing to fix it. I don’t have the people to get it pulled down and turned around.”

So, the choice: “If I’m gonna go to the road course and run Chicago and keep up with my Xfinity stuff, then I have to do that, otherwise, I can sit at home and put this (Cup) car together.”

Other factors in his decision might be the threat of a fine if something isn’t right and the higher entry fee to go Cup racing. Long says the Cup entry fee is about $10,000 higher. With regard to the threat of a fine, Long laughed, “I wanna go back to the Cup race, but I don’t wanna have nothin’ wrong!”

Fighting through all the challenges, Long still believes in pursuing his dream. He knows he has something to offer companies looking to partner with a race team. “They can get more bang for their buck.”

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He believes the rig is back in calibration, and he is ready to be more competitive. He invites potential partners to consider their options. “They can spend over $100,000 a race with a good Xfinity program and run around 10th-15th with a slight opportunity to win here and there.” But “you can spend $40,000 with us,” Long said. For that reduced price, he believes the value is there: “Still have the experience, come to the track, be in the garage, be in the pits, have the same experience, bring your people.”

Thinking back to Hill’s almost-win at Daytona, he reminds the prospective partners, “if we get that opportunity like we had at Daytona and Charlotte to pull off an upset win, it’s gonna be really great.”

In today’s NASCAR, funding is frequently brought by a driver. Long points out that if a driver pays big money to drive for a big team, that driver better run well because of the expectations that come with the car. In comparison, a driver can run mid-pack with Carl’s team and show off their talent.

“If he goes and gets in a car that Ty Gibbs and those guys have been running, he better win or run in the top five. You have a lot to lose.” Meanwhile, “Come drive for us, and you gain a lot. If they come and drive my car and finish 25th, it’s been a good day!”

MBM is having a tough season, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the end is near. That isn’t how Long operates.

“I never really gave up on nothin’. I’m still doin’ it.”

About the author

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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Steve C

Carl is a very strong guy. The way Na$crap screwed him over, I just can’t imagine him wanting to struggle on. But I admire him, he’s a true racer

Kurt Smith

I agree, I never understood why the guy stuck around. With all of that perseverance he could have started his own series.

Matthew Lewis

Great article Steve! Showcases many of the reasons Carl has always been my favorite driver/team! Best wishes Carl! You and the Team deserve success and I hope you achieve it or get rich trying! 😁

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