Mazda MX-5 Cup Behind the Scenes: Who is Tom Long?
 August 24, 2021| 
  • Series News

He’s at every Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich® Tires race. He’s been an MX-5 Cup test driver since 2015 and logged thousands of laps helping to develop the current car. He can be found in MX-5 Cup race control. He writes a regular column about MX-5 Cup for Mazda Motorsports. Who is this professional driver that has become so synonymous with MX-5 Cup? It’s Tom Long.



Having been involved in racing at every level with Mazda and with a genuine enthusiasm for helping drivers improve their craft, Mazda Motorsports could ask for no better ambassador than Long.


Inheriting his dad’s love for motorsports, Long joined his father at SCCA events and jumped behind the wheel as soon as he was old enough. Eventually Long made the jump to what was then called “Pro Spec Miata,” winning the championship in 2005. The experience gave Long a real appreciation for Mazda cars and the brand’s support for its racers.


As Tom’s professional career began to take off and his father’s career at IBM came to a close, Long Road Racing evolved from a father-son team, to a professional race shop, to a MX-5 Cup production facility.


image5“We had a small shop that we ran Freedom Autosport out of for many years,” Long said. “Long Road Racing was already a company, but it was Freedom Autosport at the race track. When the opportunity with Mazda developed—the fourth-generation (MX-5 Cup) car—that’s when the new shop came about to make it more of a production facility in 2015.”


Until that point, MX-5 Cup cars weren’t sold as a finished race car, instead drivers could purchase a road-going MX-5, plus a MX-5 Cup conversion kit, and build it themselves. When the fourth generation MX-5 arrived, Mazda wanted to enhance parity in the series with a single MX-5 Cup builder and hired Long Road Racing for the job.


186449058_341903510655693_430396240635508183_nLong, who was also part of Mazda’s DPi driver lineup, became the defacto MX-5 Cup test driver, critiquing and improving every part of the car. This role has continued even as production moved to Flis Performance in 2020 and has kept Long especially busy over the last two years with the introduction of the sequential gearbox.     


“There are still opportunities to make improvements with the car,” Long explained. “That’s something that Mazda feels very strongly about, that they’re always giving their customers the best product and not saying ‘well it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ It’s a constant evolution. That’s one of their key pillars and that’s something that Flis Performance and all of Mazda embodies.”


With his experience as a professional driver and his time developing the MX-5 Cup car, then Mazda Motorsports Director John Doonan began to see Long as an asset for race control as well.


“Someone that doesn’t have any car racing experience can still be a great race director but it’s important to have that support group around them that give them the extra perspective,” Long said.


Similar to other series that have professional drivers serving as race stewards, Long offers a driver’s insight to incidents being reviewed by the race director. It doesn’t stop there, though. Long is always available in the MX-5 Cup paddock to explain penalties to drivers and help them improve as a driver.


“Here’s why I think MX-5 Cup provides so much value for their competitors: it’s never ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and you’re left wondering why and how,” Long said. “I’ll explain ‘okay, here’s a couple scenarios, here’s how this would go and here’s where that would go and here’s where we’re at, so next time think about it this way.’ It’s like a twist on coaching. This is a lot of drivers’ first time in a pro environment and it’s different from club racing. We’re trying to help them, not just go faster, but how to be better racers, how to be smarter and survive and become a better package. All those nuances add up.”


image0Since 2019, the series has named the Road America event weekend the ‘Alana Long 100,’ in honor of Tom’s mom, who passed away from cancer that year. The Long family always treasured their trips to the Wisconsin track where the family atmosphere of the track aligned with the family atmosphere of MX-5 Cup.


“It’s a special honor to have a race named after her,” Long said. 


Over the past two decades, Long has become an important asset to the Mazda Motorsports family. His job description continues to grow, but don’t expect him to give up the role of professional driver anytime soon.


“Racing is my number one passion for sure,” Long explained. “Even though I don’t get to race as much as I’d like to, I still stay very active in the seat. I haven’t hung the helmet up from a competitive standpoint or other opportunities. I’m still active with my IMSA license and FIA license and I think I might end up doing more before too long.”


When he does, you can expect a large contingent of his cheering squad to be MX-5 Cup racers and staff.


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