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.
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?
There we go.