Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Fastest Street Car Staff
When Leonard Long was a senior at Hershey High School in Pennsylvania in the 1960s, he was planning to be a mechanic upon graduation.
But with some encouragement from his father, he chose to go to vocational school instead, and the skills he acquired there have served him well, as he went on to own and operate Long Machine and Tool, Inc., which includes Long Shifters and G-Force Racing Transmissions.
Long’s company has a building in Cleona, Pennsylvania for manufacturing, sales and service of transmissions and shifters for street cars and drag race cars, and in Asheboro, North Carolina for sales and service of transmissions and shifters for circle track cars. The company also makes electrical connector housing components for the military.
In addition to running a successful business, Long rows gears in his Mustang, quite remarkably, while racing in NMCA Dart NA 10.5 presented by Diamond Pistons. The car, which showcases his company’s products, consistently clocks 7.80s in the quarter-mile with a 415 cubic-inch engine with machine work by Ray Barton Racing Engines, assembly by Jay Zolko, Visner Engine Development heads and intake and one of Long’s robust and reliable GF2000 clutchless five-speed transmissions. And, it helped him capture championships in the tough-as-nails category in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020.
Read on for more about the well-respected Long, who brings a wealth of knowledge to the world of motorsports.
WE’D LIKE TO START BY CONGRATULATING YOU ON EARNING THE 2020 DART NA 10.5 PRESENTED BY DIAMOND PISTONS CHAMPIONSHIP. WHAT CAME BEFORE ALL OF YOUR SUCCESS WITH SHIFTERS, TRANSMISSIONS AND RACING?
Well, when I was a kid, my dad was a welder at a local company here in Pennsylvania, and he also built privately-owned apartment units in four different buildings, and I worked with him. We laid bricks, and installed flooring and roofing, and those buildings are still standing today. I did that between the ages of twelve and sixteen or seventeen.
WHEN DID YOU DEVELOP AN INTEREST IN CARS?
Back in the 1960s, there was not a lot of drag racing around our area, but there were a few dirt tracks. My dad didn’t approve of my going racing, but I would go to drag races with my cousin, Merv Moyer. He had an old Ford truck with a Ford engine that we called the Ugly Truckling, and then a 1956 Chevy with a Ford engine that we called the Half Breed. After that, he had a Mustang and then a Maverick. I would go to the races with him two to three times a week, and I would help him. I was about fifteen at the time, and then about three or four years later, I bought a 1960 Falcon to race.
DID WATCHING YOUR COUSIN RACE INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION TO START RACING?
Yes, I suppose it did. In addition to helping my dad build apartment units, I worked at a junk yard during the summer months, and that’s how I got the money to buy the Falcon right out of high school. And then, I started working on it, and learning how to do more and more. I got a bucket seat for it out of a Fiat at the junk yard, because back then, there were no places like Summit or Jegs and you had to be creative. We cut the wheelwells out of the back of the car to make room for slicks, and I built a 289 cubic-inch Ford engine for the car. That was the first engine I had ever built, and it had Hilborn-style injection. I even built a hood scoop for it, as well as a Ford Top Loader transmission and a Ford nine-inch rear end. I raced it at York US30 Dragway, which is now closed, and Maple Grove in Pennsylvania, and it went 11.70s and 126 mph, which was pretty fast and steamy for back in the day.
IT SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS A GREAT EXPERIENCE. DO YOU STILL HAVE THE FALCON?
No, unfortunately. I sold it to a local guy, and he raced it. Believe it or not, years later, I was at a restaurant and heard someone call out my name, and when I turned to see who it was, the guy said he used to own my Falcon, and that he had sold it to another guy. Then a couple years ago, I was in Maple Grove, and another guy told me that he used to own my car, and that he had it crushed. He had been flat-towing the car, and he turned a corner too sharply, and it slid the front tires over and folded the suspension over, which tore the whole front of the car off. Rather than fix the car, he put it through the car-crusher. I was so upset that I could have cried. I had always hoped to have that car back some day.
WHAT OTHER MUSCLE CARS DID YOU HAVE AFTER THE FALCON?
Once I sold the Falcon, I didn’t have a muscle car until sixteen years ago. I woke up one day and wanted to do a little Friday night bracket racing at Beaver Springs Dragway in Pennsylvania. My son, Mike, helped me find a race car in Louisiana. A friend of mine with a truck said he’d come with me to pick it up. It was a red Fox body Mustang, and I bracket raced it for years. I also ran in the Ram Racing Series with it, and it had a small-block Windsor, but it wasn’t fast enough for other guys who were running the class, like Bob Hanlon, John Langer and Charlie Booze Jr. Then I bought an old 358 cubic-inch Ernie Elliott engine out of a NASCAR car, and was running 8.50s. Then I brought the car to NMCA NA 10.5 in 2013, and then I brought my current SN95 Mustang to NMCA NA 10.5 in 2014 and have evolved ever since.
ALONG THE WAY, YOU CO-OWNED A RACE CAR, TOO, DIDN’T YOU?
Yes, I co-owned a car with Don Whitmer, who has since passed away. Don was the driver, and we ran NHRA Comp Eliminator and traveled everywhere east of the Mississippi. We had a 1968 Camaro, and then a later-model Reher Morrison Pro Stock Camaro, and they had small-block Chevy engines and Doug Nash five-speeds.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BEGIN BUILDING SHIFTERS?
While racing with Merv Moyer in the 1970s, we had Doug Nash five-speed transmissions, but we couldn’t get the things to go into gear. Need is the mother of invention, and I started making shifters for them in 1975. Then my shifter patent issued in 1976, and that was the start of my business, Long Shifters. At first, I was making them out of a two-bay garage, and then I built my first building, a 2,400 square-foot building near where I lived, but then I moved into a much larger building of 75,000 square feet when I started doing it full-time, and named the shop Long Machine and Tool, Inc., and it’s still called that today. Now, G-Force Racing Transmissions, which I acquired 20-something years ago, operates under the umbrella of Long Machine and Tool, Inc., and I have been in business 40 years full-time. My son, Mike, helped me build a very successful company, and now we have many models of transmissions.
G-FORCE RACING TRANSMISSIONS, THE SPONSOR OF THE NMRA COYOTE STOCK CATEGORY, HAS SUCH A SOLID REPUTATION. WHAT ARE SOME OF ITS MOST POPULAR OFFERINGS?
We build the G-Force 5R, a five-speed clutchless transmission which we inherited when we took over the business. We have upgraded it a lot, and racers like Larry Geddes and Dennis Corn run it in NMRA Open Comp. Then, when we went to the NASCAR world, we came up with the G101, and that’s the four-speed transmission that the racers in NMRA Coyote Stock run, like Jacob Lamb and those guys. We also have the GF2000, like I and Chad Neuenschwander and Richie Nye run in NMCA NA 10.5. It takes upwards of 2,000 horsepower, so it’s in the same league as a Liberty’s.
WHAT’S INVOLVED IN ENSURING THAT YOUR COMPANY’S TRANSMISSIONS CONTINUE TO EVOLVE?
Everything evolves, so we have to evolve, too. Tracks get better, engines make more power, suspension improves. You have to keep up or you will not be one of the best, or the best, in the business. We are constantly looking at gear design, tooth design, better gearing packages, bigger diameters, wider gears and more. We have to keep looking for the next advancements. That’s where racing my car is helpful. We can look at my transmission, and see what’s working and what isn’t. Thankfully, oils today are much better than they were twenty years ago. That helps a lot.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO RUN A MANUAL TRANSMISSION IN A RACE CAR WITH AS MUCH HORSEPOWER AS YOURS?
In an NA 10.5 car with so much horsepower and a manual transmission, you must slip the clutch, but as you slip the clutch, you wear the clutch. It’s the only way you can hook up. Otherwise, you’ll blow the tires off. Also, there’s a lot of adjustments to be made if the track got better, the sun was going down, the air got better and you were making 30 more horsepower. Sometimes, I’ll crank half a turn in the clutch because the engine will try to drive through the clutch. In stick racing, you can tune to the race track a lot better than you can in converter racing, but there is a lot of maintenance between rounds.
WHAT DO YOU TELL RACERS WHO AREN’T SURE WHETHER THEY WANT TO TRY A MANUAL TRANSMISSION?
A manual transmission is a little more work, no doubt about it. A clutch is a constant moving target, and I have to make adjustments based on data from my Race Pak. I have to know what and where to adjust, and gear ratio is a big thing. There are advantages and disadvantages to running a manual transmission, like if you make the wrong calls. But, if you stay on top of it, it’s really great and worth it.
THE COMPETITION IN NMCA DART NA 10.5 PRESENTED BY DIAMOND PISTONS IS INCREDIBLE. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CATEGORY?
It’s a lot of work. There are a hell of a lot of racers in the category who are very tough to beat. Any of them could win any race at any time, but I think it’s awesome.
YOU’VE EARNED FOUR NMCA DART NA 10.5 PRESENTED BY DIAMOND PISTONS CHAMPIONSHIPS WHILE ROWING GEARS OF YOUR GF2000. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE ACCOMPLISHED THAT WITH A MANUAL TRANSMISSION?
It gives me a sense of accomplishment. I’ve run manual transmissions all my life, and I have evolved with clutch companies. I’ve put my life into my company, and I’ve been doing that for a very long time.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO CONTINUE TO WORK AS HARD AS YOU DO IN RACING?
I just like racing, and I want to be among the best, which means I have to keep trying. That goes for my racing as well as my business.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER RACING PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?
Actually, I’m building a turbo car. It’s a 2004 Mustang with a 430 cubic-inch small-block Ford and a 94mm turbo. It will have a G-Force Racing transmission with a Bruno torque converter drive and I’ll run the car locally.
YOU’RE CERTAINLY ACCOMPLISHING A LOT. WHO HELPS YOU ALONG THE WAY?
I have a lot of great help from employees, friends and family. My current crew is Carl Straw, who drives the truck, Frank Edwards, who is my crew chief, Paul Long, who also works for me in the transmission shop, and my Sarah Jean Strunk. I also have support from James and Crystal Smith, and I own and help sponsor the Mustang that James runs in the Warriors series on the East Coast. He won the championship in the series this year. I couldn’t do this without all of them.
(Interview from the February 2020 issue of Fastest Street Car)