12 Questions with Landon Cassill

The 12 Questions series concludes for 2017 with Landon Cassill, who has been in the last-but-not-least position for six consecutive years now. Cassill will end his tenure at Front Row Motorsports this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is currently looking for a new ride.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I’m (leaning) more heavily toward working at it than natural ability. There’s a lot of people out there that are just good at everything and I don’t think I’m one of those people. I think I’m good at a lot of things, but I definitely am a person who learns through my mistakes and fixing my mistakes, so I feel like I kind of have to work at it.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

I feel like I’ve made that pitch almost every day through my social media activity in the way I communicate with fans. I mean, you just have to meet me at the racetrack and kind of see and understand how I kind of conduct myself, the way my sense of humor works. If you’re looking for a driver on the entertainment side of things, someone you’d like to follow off the track — and I think my on-track story is kind of cool and compelling as well. I think I’ve been through a lot in the Cup Series and had unique opportunities. I haven’t had that breakthrough opportunity yet, so I think it’s kind of, as Mark Martin put it awhile back, I’m kind of coming up the old-school way and I feel like that’s the way I’m doing it. So that’s a cool story to follow on-track.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

I think balancing the work between, “How do I make myself a better race car driver?” but also “How do I market myself?” and “How do I brand myself and spend time on social media?” Things like that.

It’s kind of going back to Question No. 1 a little bit. I work pretty hard on my feedback and my post-race reports and try to reflect on what I did at the races, how I can use that for the next race. Sometimes it’s busywork, like office work, and so much work that you have to get done at a desk. A lot of it is writing; I have an iPad Pro and a pencil and write a lot of my notes, whether it’s on the plane on Mondays or whatever. And it’s time sensitive, too, because I tend to forget what my car did as the week goes on. So I don’t write as well on Wednesday or Thursday after a Sunday race as I do on Sunday night or Monday morning.

So balancing that kind of stuff, getting that work done versus trying to be sponsor-friendly or fan-friendly and keeping up a solid brand and a good personality — because that stuff takes time, too — that balance definitely is a tough part of the job.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Absolutely. Yeah, just form a line and we’ll stop eating our dinner and I’ll sign autographs and take pictures until everybody is through. I do that on Wednesday nights at the Brickhouse in Davidson.

You have a big line, huh?

Yeah. (Laughs) I’m just kidding. I’ve never ever been to the Brickhouse in Davidson, that’s just the first restaurant I thought of.

Yeah, I don’t care. I’m totally fine with it. I really appreciate people who know who I am or know something about me — like if you feel like there’s one thing you know about me and you see me out in the wild, you feel like, “Landon, I want to remind you of this funny thing you did,” or something I did on the racetrack or whatever, I want to hear it. I think that’s cool. That’s the kind of race fan I am: When I see somebody I look up to or admire, that’s how I open a conversation. It doesn’t bother me to meet fans in the wild, in public.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

(Long pause. His public relations representative Shari Spiewak notes he had all year to think of an answer.) I feel like this is important, this is like the story that hasn’t been covered enough. I don’t want to screw it up. I don’t want you to turn around and be like, “Well, actually, it was just written about last week in the New York Times, they did a big special about it in their sports section. Yeah, you’re gonna screw up the whole thing.”

I think we should talk more specifically about how drivers drive, what makes up their driving styles and what certain drivers do compared to other ones to make their cars go fast.

I think that’s a product of two things. I think number one, we don’t necessarily know. I think we do, but in all the money and engineering that we spend in the sport, we spend it all on the race cars because it’s kind of a long-hanging fruit in some ways. Because if we kind of put the drivers in the car and trust that they’re going as fast as they can, why not just build the car to go faster?

But we’ve never really over-engineered the drivers. I feel like there’s speed left in the drivers, learning their techniques and what Kyle Larson does differently than Jimmie Johnson, what Kyle Busch does differently.

And I think the second reason why we don’t talk about this a whole lot is because I think a lot of the way to talk about that and learn more about that is through data, through the feedback that we get back from the EFI and things like that. So I think the teams don’t want to give up a lot of information. But I think it would be really cool if you could get the engineers and the crew chiefs to be a little bit more open about their drivers and what they do specifically, what they do with the throttle, what they do with the brakes, if they’re really erratic with the steering wheel, if they use a lot of steering wheel, if they don’t use a lot of wheel. I think it would be cool to see a breakdown of how everybody drives, what path that sends them and their teams down.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

David Ragan yesterday, and Dale Jr. before that. David asked me if I wanted to go hiking yesterday after we landed kind of early in Phoenix and I didn’t take him up on it. Usually I do. When David hits me up, we usually get dinner every few weeks, something like that, on the road.

In the past, you’ve tweeted a couple of screenshots of you having an incredible amount of unanswered text messages. Why do you not read your text messages? I understand not reading your emails, but how do you explain not reading your texts?

(Laughs) I don’t know. I don’t know, I just don’t open them. Like sometimes if we’re having a text conversation and it finishes and you’re the last person, like if you send the closing text to the conversation and I see it, then I just don’t open it. Does that make sense?

It pops up, so you don’t actually click on the conversation and read it. You just see it come up and you’re just like, “OK?”

And I have my read receipts on, so people know if I read it or not.

So you gotta be careful about that, because you don’t want people to say, “You didn’t write me back.” So it’s easier to say, “I didn’t read it.”

Yeah, kind of. It’s a way to maybe control the situation.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers? Earlier this year, when we were talking about it, you predicted most would say no. It turns out that mostly everybody have said yes. So what’s your answer?

I mean, I feel like we’re entertaining for sure. I think we’re athletes and I think that NASCAR is an entertainment sport. But I don’t know if we’re entertainers.

I feel like professional wrestlers are entertainers, and I don’t want to compare NASCAR to professional wrestling. I think that’s a slippery slope and I don’t want to get in trouble for anything like that. And that’s not what I’m implying anyway.

But I think maybe we can be both. There’s some drivers out there who are not that entertaining — so would you call them entertainers? Or are they more like heavy on the athlete, not as heavy on the entertaining?

I don’t know. It’s up to the next person (in the 12 Questions). Well, I guess we’ll never know! We’ll never truly know the answer because I’m the last person to do that question.

8. This is the question you came up with last year: What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

This is such a good question. It really is. It is one of your all-time best questions for 12 Questions?

It has to be. Not to heap all this praise on you, but that’s one of my favorite questions.

Go ahead, heap all the praise.

So I feel like first of all, I’m guilty of it both ways. I’ve flown my share of birds in my career and I’ve received them in my career. When you take the emotion down and you think about it, I feel like it’s a sign of weakness on both sides.

It’s a sign of weakness if you’re flying the bird — it shows that you’re frustrated with the person behind you, that you’re letting them, whatever they’re doing to you, get in your head. I think back in the times that I’ve done that, and like I regret it every time because it shows I was more concerned being mad at that person, flipping them off, than focusing on the race.

So usually if nothing happens, that’s great, but if something happens, you end up in a pissing match with that guy. Then you just screw up your race because you’re worried about a middle finger. So I feel like it’s a sign of weakness if you’re flying the bird, and I also I feel like it’s a sign of weakness if you’re reacting to somebody who’s flying the bird.

Some people’s policy is, “I’m gonna wreck anybody that flies me the bird.” Well, that’s stupid, because you just let them potentially ruin your day. I mean, you might wreck them and ruin their day, but what if you damage your car? What if you ruin your own day? All because they flipped you off? And so I think it’s a sign of weakness if you fly the bird, and I think it’s a sign of weakness if you have a reaction to someone flying the bird.

When I get the bird, it makes me laugh because it lets me know that person in front of me, I’m in their head now, and it makes me want to keep doing whatever I was just doing to them to get them out of my way.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

No. Not really.

You don’t? Most people said yes this year.

I don’t know. I generally race people pretty fair, but my number one rule of thumb is I do what gets me the best possible finish. So that’s why my knee-jerk reaction to that question is no, because I prioritize myself. And I guess I’m not implying that those other people that say yes would prioritize someone else over their own finish, but I definitely prioritize my finish over everybody else.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

So I had a really cool dinner in England at the Goodwood Festival of Speed with some really cool guys, Dan Gurney and Sir Jackie Stewart. We were all at the same table, so there was maybe 12 of us there. That was a pretty cool dinner. I spent a lot of time with those guys at Goodwood. Those are definitely the most famous people I’ve ever been around.

At the time, I was driving a Chevy on the NASCAR side and my suit had a Chevy emblem on it. Sir Jackie Stewart said, “Oh, you drive a Chevy?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Someday, you’ll be good enough to drive a Ford.”

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

(Thinks for a moment.) I guess I’d like to get better at answering questions on the spot.

These shouldn’t be on the spot, Landon. You helped vet these questions.

I forgot about that. Man, you know, I feel like I have good communication skills, but I feel like I’m not always the best communicator. Sometimes I feel like I can be a better communicator.

That’s what I hear from all the people who haven’t gotten replies to their text messages to you.

Yeah.

12. Last week I interviewed Austin Dillon. He wanted me to ask you: If you could bring three sponsors into this sport to make it better, what would they be and why?

That’s a really cool question. I would bring in some sort of technology company like Apple or Google or Microsoft. And I would hopefully build a deal around accessing their smart people and using that to our advantage on the racetrack, whether it’s like developing artificial intelligence for a simulation program or something like that. I think that would be cool, so definitely one of the major technology companies.

I would definitely like to have Whole Foods as a sponsor because the discount card at Whole Foods would be great. That would be useful for me and my family.

And beer sponsors always seem to work out pretty well, too. I think it’s nice having a beer sponsor.

Now the question that you are going to ask is going to an unknown person before the Daytona 500 next year — provided I’m still employed by all my patrons. What is something I can ask somebody going into the Daytona 500 next year?

Kind of going off of the answers to one of the questions earlier, I wanna know: What is your driving style? That’s kind of my question. But I want them to answer specifically:”Do you use a lot of brake? Do you get to the gas earlier than most?” I’m curious what your driving style is.

So essentially, “From what you know from comparing yourself to other drivers, how much brake do you use, how quickly do you get to the gas, how do you make it through the corner compared to others?” Something like that?

Yeah, I think so. It would be useful to know if they drive the car loose or tight, but I don’t know how they’ll answer that. But yeah, I’d like to know, “How much data do you look at and what does that tell you about your driving style?” How about that?

Thank you for joining us, and I truly hope we are doing this together next year at Phoenix, which meant you would have found a ride.

Do I have to be a full-time Cup driver to do the 12 Questions?

No, definitely not, but it would just be convenient.

Would you do 12 Questions with a used car salesman?

Sure.

There we go.

Landon Cassill won’t return to Front Row Motorsports, becomes free agent

At just 28 years old, Landon Cassill has already made 253 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series. If it’s possible for a Millennial to be considered a veteran driver, that’s Cassill.

But the journey will have to continue elsewhere next season. Cassill said he was informed Monday he will not return to Front Row Motorsports in 2018, and he will now begin the process of finding a new ride.

A driver with a cult following on Twitter, Cassill has been behind two popular social media campaigns during his time at Front Row. Last year, he got fans to tweet “38, nice” in honor of his car number at the time; this season, he’s been retweeting fans who take a photo at sponsor Love’s Travel Stops and say they can’t find the driver there.

Cassill said via phone call on Tuesday he was not told why he was out of a ride, other than the team was making “radical changes” for next season. In a statement to this website, the team said it was appreciative for his time there but offered no further details.

“We’re thankful for the last two years having Landon as a teammate and an ambassador for our sponsors, and we’ll keep working hard with him and the No. 34 team for the best possible results the remainder of the 2017 season,” a spokesperson said.

Cassill acknowledged he was surprised by the decision, but said “there’s no message of despair.” After getting over the initial shock, he said, there’s been a feeling of anticipation to see what else is out there.

“I’m kind of excited to see what doors open up for me,” he said. “I have a unique resume in this sport right now. I think my youth is what kind of helps stay plugged in on a social side and off-track side, and then I just have a tremendous amount of experience in the Cup Series — maybe not having the limelight of a top-notch team, but I’d like to work myself into one of those scenarios where I can showcase what I’ve learned.”

This position isn’t new for Cassill, who has driven for seven race teams in the Cup Series as well as four different teams in the Xfinity Series while making 118 starts there.

The Iowa native was originally a Hendrick Motorsports development driver but ultimately had to come up through the Cup ranks in an old-school way: Starting with start-and-park teams, then slowly climbing the ladder in the small team ranks.

His latest stop was Front Row, where he’s averaged a 26th-place finish over two seasons for a team that counts a top-25 result as a good day and a top-20 as a great one.

Along the way, he built a following of underdog-loving fans who appreciate Cassill’s savvy when it comes to the Internet culture.

“One of my big motivations right now is to succeed for all these people who are so emotionally invested in following me and see where I go and what I do,” he said. “I don’t want to let my fans down. And I say that genuinely and feel that, because I know there are fans who have stuck with me for a long time. I feel a sense of responsibility for them as much as I do my own family that I have to provide for.”

Cassill said he would be open to talking to anyone across NASCAR’s three national series (“I don’t turn down any phone calls when I’m in these situations,” he said) but would prefer to land somewhere that has a “road map for me to continue to grow my success.”

“I’ve had a lot of things in my career where my hard work has paid off and put me in positions to keep myself in the business, and I don’t really plan on stopping that at all,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself in how I do things to go about being a professional race car driver that I don’t think will change. I think for me this is just another chapter in my career and my life.

“It’s tough, because sometimes these changes are the best things for opening doors, but they’re the hardest thing in the moment. That’s probably what my family and I are going to be dealing with right now.”

 

Social Spotlight with Landon Cassill

The “Social Spotlight” series continues this week with Landon Cassill, who drives the No. 34 car for Front Row Motorsports. This interview is available in both podcast and written form.

How would you describe your social media philosophy?

I’m a child of the internet, as we all are, for the most part. I’m your typical Millennial, I think. I grew up doing school work on the internet, playing video games on the internet. I feel like internet culture is part of my life, so I kind of just live it out that way. It’s kind of an extension of me.

What was the first social media platform you used?

Xanga was my first social media platform.

What was Xanga?

Xanga was a blog site. Me and my friends had Xanga pages and we’d just post daily content, I guess. (Laughs) It’s all pretty similar — everything has kind of moved from one to the other.

Back then, you’d get home from school, log onto the internet on my computer at home — we had dial-up internet for the longest time — and log onto my Xanga account and make an update about something that happened at school. Then I’d check it every couple hours to see if anybody liked it. You could leave comments and things like that, customize your page. It was kind of cool.

You’re on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. But do you operate your own Facebook?

My Facebook is kind of a collaboration. The biggest thing I do on Facebook is Facebook Live. I scroll through my timeline a lot and see what people comment on pages. I don’t use a personal Facebook page, so it’s not in my habit to be logging onto Facebook a lot. But I love Facebook Live, I love that platform. So I do kind of go in spurts where I’ll be on Facebook an awful lot if I’m posting live content.

For Instagram, I don’t feel like I’m the best photographer and it’s not in me to always stop and take pictures. So my Instagram content is kind of intermittent. But the one thing I really like about Instagram right now is Instagram Live. The content disappears, so you catch it live. There’s no rewinding, you don’t get to see the beginning of the video. You’re just watching it live as it happens, and then once the person logs off the live feed, that’s it. It’s gone. As the host, you see how many people watch your video, and that’s pretty much it. I really like Instagram Live, because it’s a cheap and easy way to see what’s going on out there.

Snapchat is cool. Twitter is where I spend most of my time, mainly because I think it’s folded into my daily life. I spend probably 75% of my time on Twitter reading the news and other content, and less than 25% of my time actually engaging.

Going back to the live stuff for a minute — I’ve never used Instagram Live because it disappears. Why do you like it better than Periscope or Facebook Live, which sticks around on your page?

I think it’s kind of a way for me to post unique, personal, native content on Instagram — but then not have to have that airing out for an extended period of time. That’s one purpose that it serves that I like about it. Because even as authentic as Facebook Live is, it’s still a little planned out.

For instance: After the Daytona 500, I did a recap where I stopped at Love’s Travel Stops (his sponsor) and got fuel on the way home from the Daytona 500. Which it was totally natural — there was nothing staged about that; I needed gas for my truck and there was a Love’s Travel Stop off the interstate. Like I was stopping there anyway.

I was like, “Man, I’ve kind of been wanting to do race recaps and talk to my fans, so what better way to do it than on Facebook?” So that was a very authentic post and it was a real thing that happened, but it was also something in the back of your mind, I know that content is going to stay on Facebook and get more views and for people to see it and follow up with that recap.

Where on Instagram, I can just pull my phone out walking out of the garage to the car and have literally no plan whatsoever and have no idea what I’m going to do, but just fire up Instagram Live and see who’s watching.

The other day, I was on Instagram Live and somebody I hadn’t talked to in five years who I went to high school with was like, “Hey, Landon!” And it was like, “Oh my gosh! Tyler, I haven’t seen you in five years! How’s it going, man?” And then it sparked a conversation, made you think of a story, you tell a quick story and then you get to your car and you log off and it’s gone.

It’s really just an authentic experience between you and your viewers and then I think it serves a value to Instagram because a lot of people have notifications turned on, and Instagram sends out a notification that says “Landon Cassill is live.” I think the platforms are thinking people can’t help themselves. They have to see what’s going on. I think it’s like free advertisement for your page. It’s a good way to drive people to your site.

You’re excellent at Snapchat, but it doesn’t seem like you love it as much as you love Twitter. Has your love affair with Snapchat cooled? And how many people do you follow on Snapchat?

I follow just a handful of people on Snapchat. Snapchat isn’t my primary source of news, and I feel like I’m super interested in news. Twitter is just a really good platform for that right now.

I do like watching people’s snaps. Snapchat is really cool because they have some neat technology none of the other platforms have. The facial recognition stuff and even the object recognition stuff that is in their platform, that’s probably what they’re going to be positioning themselves to really pop here in the next couple years. Especially since they’ve gone public, they’re injected with a crapload of money.

I follow NASCAR, Lewis Hamilton, a couple friends of mine, Jordan Anderson, Gary Vee (Vaynerchuk), Kim Kardashian, my sister Echo. And then I have a couple group messages with friends and some friends that send me snaps on a daily basis. I’ll probably be going in and out of Snapchat over the course of the year.

Let’s talk about Twitter, since you use that the most. Is it the first thing you check in the morning? Do you ever worry you’re looking at it too much? Because we hear about the Twitter vacuum.

Yeah, I’m probably stuck in the Twitter vacuum. It’s definitely the first thing I check in the morning. I don’t watch a lot of TV other than Netflix — my wife and I have shows we watch — so I get all of my news, my gossip, pretty much my social information from my Twitter timeline. Everything serious, everything humorous. I follow my favorite weatherman on Twitter. Political stuff. It’s pretty much Twitter for me.

If you have people who are giving you a hard time, do you block them, mute them or ignore them?

I don’t block people. Actually, if somebody is giving me a hard time, I take the time to try and win them over. (Laughs) Honestly, it works every time. I have won over fans that were talking so much crap and I would just engage with them. They just want attention. Now, I don’t get a lot of people hating on me on Twitter. When I do get someone, it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to see what’s crawled up this guy’s butt and just talk to him a little bit” and it always works.

But if you’re like Dale Jr. or Brad Keselowski or some really polarizing figure in the sport, they probably get hundreds of those a day. I wouldn’t be doing that at that point.

I don’t like blocking people. I don’t like silencing people. I don’t think that’s cool. But I do mute people — and that’s just if their timeline is annoying.

So people you follow — you mute them?

I definitely have people I follow that I mute. And that’s just because I don’t really want to unfollow them. I have people I’m friends with that I just don’t like their regular content. But if they tweeted me, I want to see a notification so I can engage in conversation. So I mute them. That’s my solution. But blocking people? I’m not into that. I’m not into silencing people.

What do you think the future of Twitter is? We hear a lot about how Millennials don’t get on Twitter and they go straight to Snapchat. Is Twitter going to go the way of MySpace?

I’m not really sure. People said the same thing about Facebook, but Facebook had the strength of a billion users. Twitter has been up and down and the one thing that’s tough about Twitter are a lot of the bots that are on there.

Yeah, what’s up with the bots?

It’s just weird. You don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know if it’s a problem with Twitter. I feel like Twitter did a good job with one of their recent algorithms. They made an update where verified accounts or accounts with seemingly original content are higher up in the replies list of other verified accounts. So that got rid of a lot of the shit-posting, pretty much. But that still happens an awful lot.

Twitter is a cool thing, and for me, until I find a better place to get my news and a better place to get a constant stream of updates, it’s going to be hard to find another platform. I’ve got almost six or seven years of time invested in this one platform for all the people I follow.

Unlike a lot of drivers, you’ve built relationships and made friends with people through Twitter — fans of yours, people who have cool content. Why were you willing to do that? 

Man, why not? I’m just a regular person, and I like to get to know people and I like to learn from people who have different points of view and have different skills. So I’ve made a lot of friends online in all kinds of industries. In a lot of ways, those networking moves and relationships I’ve built have gotten me a lot of interesting media attention and opportunities on platforms outside of just NASCAR racing. I’ve built a lot of genuine friendships and I’ve learned a lot of cool things from people and I think that’s just natural for me. I don’t put myself on a pedestal or anything. I’m a NASCAR driver, but I’m kind of just like anybody else.

How many people you’ve met through Twitter have your personal cell phone number?

Probably quite a few. I mean, more than you could count on two hands.

So no problems with that?

Not really. I don’t just give it out to anybody. But how is it different letting someone have your cell phone number than letting them in your direct messages? Like, the notification comes through the same way. Shoot, with Snapchat you can call someone. You can video call with someone. You have the same capabilities. To me, it’s all the same thing.

Landon Cassill’s social accounts: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook.

Do NASCAR tracks really have four turns?

It’s been 13 years since I covered my first NASCAR race, but there’s something I’ve never understood about the sport.

Why does everyone say there are four turns at most tracks when there really seem to be two?

I get it at Indianapolis — there are four distinct turns separated by straightaways. But at Daytona? It seems like there are two giant turns (maybe three if you count the trioval).

And if that seems like a stretch, can you really say Martinsville has four turns? It’s two drag strips connected by a pair of turns.

Anyway, Daytona 500 Media Day seemed like a good time to try and get to the bottom of this. I’m not sure I did, but I hope you enjoy the video below: