DONALD LONG: THE SWEET SIXTEEN TICKET WILL BE THE TICKET TO HAVE
Donald Long, the flamboyant and brash promoter, the one who essentially put drag radial drag racing on the map, could understandably rest on his laurels for the next 10 years and not miss a beat in the small tire, street-themed drag racing world.
After nine years of setting the standard with his popular Lights Out and No Mercy events at South Georgia Motorsports Park, located outside of Valdosta, Ga., those who know the former high school academic letterman have come to expect the unexpected.
The words Long speaks in his popular Facebook live episodes might be the only unpredictable entity of this small tire reincarnation of 1970s Funny Car promoter Bill Doner's style. Otherwise, his actions are wholly expected to be brash and bold.
Long is sending a message with a third and even more prestigious event to his line-up. His March 23 - 24, 2018 Sweet Sixteen event will feature a winner's prize which exceeds even the richest one-day total a 10,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car can earn.
The Sweet Sixteen event will showcase the top of the food chain for the radial tire racing community; a class he branded some years ago as Radial vs. The World and a 16-car field will battle it out for $101,000 to win.
"It’s just going to be; it’s really just a two-day frickin’ let your balls hang out, find out who the baddest Radial vs. The World car is," Long counsels, political correctness be damned. "We actually can prep just for Radial vs. The World cars."
Long who laughs at the notion he's the antithesis of the major league drag racing promoted by the NHRA. However, this doesn't mean he isn't in a league of his own.
To put this all in perspective, those who qualify and win in Long's Sweet 16 shootout will win more money in one day than those who participate in either one of the NHRA's Traxxas Shootouts. Bear in mind; these are not 10,000-horsepower nitro burners. They are essentially Pro Modified entries with 10.5-inch wide Drag Radials bolted on.
Even more radical, Long said he's only selling 500 tickets for spectators, so finding a good seat in the stands shouldn't be a problem, considering all 500 will likely migrate to a spot on the starting line behind the race teams.
When Long added the extra $1000 to the winner's purse there was plenty of rhyme and reason to this monetary move. The extra payout makes it larger than yhe money paid yo top fuel and funny car winners in the NHRA.
And as nice as the cash is, Long understands it's the mementos of such a prestigious race which matters most to the racers, at least the ones he deals with.
With Long's marquee events, there's usually a rush to arrive early in the morning for each day for quality parking for the massive spectator and racer count. There might still be an early rush to arrive early, but not for the same reason.
In his words, "there's a lot of s*** going down, you don't wanna miss.
"We want to have all kinds of driver interviews; we want to have the top end stuff for them, we want to have you know like the table they use at the ESPN football game thing where we can have interviews there with them," Long explained. "I want to have a good time with it."
Long has something to prove. He's committed to ensuring the point is driven home for many years, and through several generations.
"It’s not always about the money," Long counsels. "Like the racers like other stuff too. They like the jackets; they like the rings, they like the trophies. A lot of these guys have a lot of money. And even if they don’t, they’re going to spend whatever they win, but they want something left down the road.
"To go back and sit around in their garage, talking about, ‘Yeah, where’d you get that?"
The prestige won't be limited to those who race and win the event, just getting in an watching will be a feat as well.
"We’re not selling; we’re not taking any cash at the gate, or anything like that. Everything is just presale only," Long said.
"You know, I want to be able to get with everybody. You know how it is. It’s hard for me to run the regular race because there are so many people; too many stupid things going on. I don’t want to have to have all the security, issues. I guess it’s like a $101,000 test session."
No offense to his uber-successful pair of events at SGMP, he wants one where he can be the most talked about in town, and all the while smelling the roses and enjoying the moment.
"The other races are great, but there’s too many people there for me," Long said. "I don’t get a chance to hang out. I want to be able to go around, hang out, talk to everybody, and that’s what I’m looking for, more of the camaraderie thing. I want to be able to actually see the race and see what’s going on."
Long admits he stopped worrying about how he's going to top each successful event with the next one. And after staging an incredible event of this magnitude, he plans to stick to his guns of living in the moment.
"I did that in the beginning, bringing in marching bands and whatever," Long said "I just want to make sure that everybody who comes, they have a great time. I want to solidify the camaraderie, make sure that I don’t leave them hanging out there in the field and not getting them parked. I don’t want to be the track that people are waiting a hundred deep because nobody will open the gate on time.
"I think when you take care of everybody, the racers, and the fans, the way you'd want to be treated, in the end, you always achieve your goal."