Racing’s young guns
Jo, as Long is known, began racing late model cars across the Southeast at age 14. A year later, the Pensacola, Fla., native became the youngest, and first, female champion in her hometown Five Flags Speedway’s history when she took the Pro Late Model title. When she turned 18 in 2010, Long jumped to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. She’ll celebrate her 20th birthday in May and hopes one of her presents is giving the guys in the Nationwide series a run for their money in 21 races this year.
Austin Dillon is a legacy ride if ever there was one, but with one big exception. He wins. Regularly. After earning Rookie of the Year in the truck series in 2010, Dillon won the truck championship in 2011. At age 21½, Dillon was the truck series’ youngest ever champion.
You say you don’t recognize the Dillon name? Maybe his grandfather’s name is more familiar: Richard Childress.
Dillon has been driving for his legendary grandpa in the truck series and is piloting full-time the No. 3 Chevrolet Impala in the Nationwide series. Significantly, this is the first time that the iconic black (you expected another color?) Chevy is back on a NASCAR track full-time since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death.
Not only is the kid good behind the wheel, Dillon was voted by truck series fans as their favorite driver last year. That’s the kind of draw the NASCAR hierarchy likes.
And Dillon’s got a head on his shoulders. He’s attending High Point University in North Carolina, but his smartest move is promising his granddad he’ll graduate from the college in 2013.
You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the usual suspects. These guys are a little older, relatively speaking, but they’ve also got lots of good years ahead:
Ricky Stenhouse, age 25, was the 2011 Nationwide series champion.
Brad Kesolowski, 28, was 2010 Nationwide series champ and a 2011 Sprint Cup chase contender.
Kyle Busch, 26, holds the modern-era record for most race wins (24) in a season across the top three NASCAR series.
Justin Allgaier, 25, was 2008 ARCA RE/MAX series champion and 2009 Nationwide rookie of the year.
Trevor Bayne, 21, was 2011 Daytona 500 champion and still counted among the young racing elite. Unfortunately, he’s a victim of NASCAR economics, driving for the venerable, but fiscally subpar, Wood Brothers team.
Don’t count any of these young men and women out. They’re already winners, and they are NASCAR’s future.
Kay Bell is an Austin, Texas-based writer. When she’s not yelling at her television during NASCAR races, she writes about financial topics and blogs about taxes at Don’t Mess With Taxes (www.dontmesswithtaxes.typepad.com).
| Memorable moment | As part of its 25th anniversary celebration this year, Roush Fenway Racing asked the NASCAR media to select the top moment in company history. The winner: Matt Kenseth’s 2003 Sprint Cup championship.