Like Jackie Robinson for African-Americans and Billie Jean King for women, professional race car driver Brian Wong is trying to become a breakthrough figure for Asians, both in the United States and worldwide.
The Newport Beach native, a driver in Porsche and Formula One racing the past four years, has been racing in the K&N Series in NASCAR, an equivalent of the minor leagues of the sport that is a bit below the Nationwide Series. The 22-year-old college student who is taking online courses at Northeastern University in Boston is looking forward to committing himself full-time to NASCAR, as soon as he gets more sponsorships.
Wong is trying to open the door for fellow Asian-American racers in the future. He is the first Chinese-American to race professionally in all the major racing series worldwide including NASCAR, American Le Mans Series, and Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.
"We're trying to break through that stereotype, you know, that Asians can't drive," Wong said from his race-car garage in Santa Ana. "I'm looking to break through that barrier. The Asian community hasn't been physically exposed to NASCAR. Hopefully, I'm one guy that's breaking through. I'm trying to get as many eyeballs on our sport. Everyone I've talked to thinks it's a good idea to sponsor an Asian driver in NASCAR. It's a matter of who wants to take that chance."
Without a doubt, Wong is doing something your average Joe would be very jealous of doing — racing Porsches, Ferraris, NASCAR Toyota cars, at upward of nearly 250 to 300 miles per hour. It doesn't hurt that Wong's father, Darryl Wong, is the team owner. Dave McCarty is his crew chief and operates out of North Carolina.
McCarty said Brian Wong is trying to race in his first NASCAR race on April 28 at the Utah Grand Prix in Salt Lake City at Miller Motorsports Park.
"Brian had a lot of road racing," McCarty said Saturday via phone from North Carolina. "In oval track racing, he had limited experience. He needed more laps. He had about two or three NASCAR races per year. He needs a full season under his belt. He's come a long way from where he was. He knows he just has to get to the point where he needs to be able to jump in the car, so he knows what the car feels like."
"Look at where he came from, basically out of nowhere," Brian Wong said of Lin's struggles to get playing time last season with the Golden State Warriors. "We're hoping I can do something maybe close to something like that. I didn't really realize I was a sort of role model, until I actually drove in Asia and realized how passionate they were, once they saw the races in person. It was an eye-opener in Asia. At first, it was a shocker. They have a lot of good Formula One tracks. The fans there were great, they were passionate. They think it's cool to see someone who looks like them racing out there. I thought it was different feedback."
One of Brian Wong's top NASCAR finishes was a fifth-place result posted at Infineon Raceway on June 25 in Sonoma in wine country up in northern California. It came on the same course as the one he raced on as a Legends-level racer as a 15-year-old.
"Brian's gotten 100% better since 2009," said Tim Crawford, the Brian Wong Motorsports team manager. "He's more aggressive and has more knowledge of the car."
One of Brian Wong's highlight races outside of NASCAR was his team's second-place finish at the American Petit Le Mans on Oct. 1 at the track in Brasselton, Ga. The team was in first place for most of the 1,000-mile, 10-hour race, until a pit stop led to a second-place run.
"It was a good race," Brian Wong said. "We should have won. We were the first car in and both of us pulled into the pits. It got out of the pit stop first, but their car pushed us out into the dirt and passed us with about 20 minutes left."
Another interesting race Brian Wong and four other drivers participated in was a 24-hour race, the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500. Wong's team finished 41st out of 63 cars.
"It's a true test for manufacturers," Brian Wong said. "It's truly man versus machine. Will the drivers or team mess up, or will the cars break down? I had to focus on my nutrition, race for a couple hours. I was so drained after the first two hours. It's harder on the crews, because they're out there the entire time. We had all kinds of emotions racing at night … afterward, it feels like you got run over by a truck."
And another prestigious race was the 59th annual Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in Florida. Racing a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Series car, Brian Wong and two other drivers finished 34th out of 56 competitors.
"Porsches are what your true race car driver would drive," Brian Wong said. "I love driving them. NASCAR is where it allows you to use a lot of technology and computerized things. On the race track, you're not allowed to use the date on the computer. What you see is what you tell your crew chief."
Brian Wong has been able to juggle his courses at Northeastern
"This is what I want to do for a career," Wong said. "Over the past several years, I went from not knowing if I wanted to do this full-time, to being completely into it. I feel like I've gotten better in terms of knowledge of the car, working with my crew, knowing how to push the car more. Once I put my mind and my whole life into it, I've gotten better."