Drake Long drives a long road to race at Tri-State and Crawford County Speedways

George "Clay" Mitchell
Press Argus-Courier
Drake Long takes a break from working on his USRA Modified 17JR to pose with his car at his dad's (Roy Long) workshop. Long has been racing since he was 13 and competes at a number of area dirt tracks including Crawford County Speedway and Tri-State Speedway.

If Drake Long isn't in school, out mowing yards, or running errands, he's in his father's workshop preparing his 17JR car for the next race.

"It becomes a full-time job," Drake said. "We'll spend at least 40 hours a week out here, and it's not uncommon to be working on the cars until 2 or 3 in the morning."

Drake will try to participate in about 40 races a year, starting in March and ending in October. There will be races on Friday nights and Saturdays, often crisscrossing across Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.

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Drake has one feature race at Tri-State and finished fifth this season. He's seventh at Thunderbird Speedway (Muskogee) in the point standings and four points behind his dad, Roy Long.

For dad, it's about getting Drake as many laps as possible as they race at Tri-State Speedway, Crawford County Speedway, and Salina Highbanks (Pryor, Oklahoma), Thunderbird, and tracks at Flippin, Siloam Springs, Fayetteville, as well as West Siloam Springs. Each feature race has 20 laps, and there are sometimes special races that will have added laps.

Drake has aspirations to be part of NASCAR but acknowledges it's about luck and money.

"Maybe there's some driving skill, but from my perspective, you have to have luck on the track and the money to keep your car running," Drake said. "I'm hoping to eventually get to Outlaw racing and go on tour with that, but again that requires a lot of luck and money."

Drake competes in the USRA Modified class at one of the various tracks no more than a few hours away from home in Stilwell. The Modified class is a hybrid of open-wheel cars and stock cars. Most often, the rear wheels are covered and  the front ones exposed.

Drake, who will be a junior next year, is a third-generation race car driver. His grandfather, Pete Long, started racing, and soon Roy and his uncle Hank began racing.

"Dad tried to talk us out of it, but we were hooked," Roy said. "We started with the sprint cars when they were five or six, but that didn't last."

After watching her husband race for several years, Maranda was OK with letting Drake get out on the dirt tracks when he was 13 in 2017at age 13.

"I've seen all the safety equipment inside the car and all the protection gear Drake has to wear, the fire suits and helmets, so I know he's going to be safe. Also, between him and my husband racing, I was going to have to accept it," Maranda said. "I honestly feel safer when he's out on the track than when he's in his truck on the road running errands."

There aren't many young drivers currently out on the track in the area. Crawford County Speedway has about five or six drivers under the age of 20. Drake is the only one under 19 who races at Tri-State Speedway.

It can be a struggle for Drake, who has an interest in racing but isn't shared with his friends and classmates."

"Sometimes I may have a friend or two out here helping me with my car, but for the most part, they don't understand or get my interest," Drake said. "That's all right. This is what I love, and I'm just going to keep on racing."