Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. For the 12th straight year, the final interview of the season goes to Landon Cassill, who sat out this season after losing his sponsorship. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. The full version is available on the 12 Questions podcast.
1. You must pick one chore or obligation to do every day for a year. But if you make it the entire year doing this, you never have to do it again for the rest of your life. So what would you like to knock out forever?
Is it horrible to say feeding the dogs? It was either that or just hauling trash down. We have outside dogs, so it’s just a little grody going out and refilling their dish. I need to be a little bit better about that process.
2. Can you describe how you are as a passenger in a street car?
It’s a pretty rare instance. I’m usually doing the driving. It’s tough with my wife driving; she doesn’t really use cruise control, so that bothers me. But I’m pretty chill.
Now, I have zero interest in being a passenger in a race car. I’ve done that before. Not fun. I don’t really care for that. That’s an unnecessary risk.
I’ve done those and found it comforting because I think, “This person knows what they’re doing.”
They don’t know. Nobody knows what they’re doing. (Laughs) Count me out.
3. What’s an app on your phone you love using and think more people should know about?
The Notes app is really coming into its own. I’m serious. Taking good notes is just way underrated, and the Apple Notes app has had some really good improvements with the way it ties in with the rest of Apple’s apps. When something surprises you, just open up a new note and write it down.
4. What do you do to make yourself feel better when you’re having a crappy day?
Eat bad food. Make yourself feel crappier.
Are you still maintaining the vegan lifestyle?
I haven’t been full-on vegan in quite some time, but my wife does pretty good at it. And I was cooking a lot this year; it was fun to cook for the family and stuff on Saturdays.
5. I asked readers to submit “Dear Abby”-style life advice questions and I’m mixing them up for each driver. This person said: “This is my first semester teaching at the local university. I just posted midterm grades and one young man has an F. It should not have been a surprise to him given his poor test score and his inability to make it to this 11 a.m. class. However, he just found out he won’t be able to play football with an F and he wants to know what he can do to get it up to a D. I’m fairly certain the only reason he’s going to college is so he can play football. Should I go out of my way to create some sort of extra credit for him so he can play football? Or should I be that professor who kills his dream?”
The way that was written, it makes it seem like a first shot. It should go without saying the kid needs to pass his classes to be able to play football. But hey, maybe this is his first real reality check on that. I think the professor should give him a chance, because you’ve still got to ask yourself: “What is the goal?” For that professor, it’s to teach these young kids the way of life and how to achieve their goals and how to organize their priorities around those goals. And if the goal is to play football, then one of those things that’s necessary is to pass your classes.
Giving them a fair shot at helping him do that, as long as he puts in the work to get there, then he deserves a chance at it. Now if they set up a plan and a strategy and some extra credit and say, “Do the work” and the student still doesn’t do it, then that’s the ultimate failure.
6. This is a question about a hot topic in society. You’re an early adopter and you were raving about Chat GPT like 10 months ago. Now it’s not only blown up, but AI in general is suddenly transforming everything so rapidly. What’s your current outlook on this AI phenomenon?
It has a lot of the same feelings right now that crypto does with its hype cycles. AI right now is in a hype cycle, meaning 80 percent or 90 percent of what you see on AI is probably a little over-exaggerated. But there’s also some extremely great functionality to some of the tools out there like ChatGPT. For me personally, I could not be more excited about using ChatGPT and using AI. It’s made me feel like I can tackle any challenge because it’s a resource you can speak to in plain light.
We’ve already had that resource with Google and the internet, right? All the information you need is on the internet. But the problem with Google is it’s an index of information. So you’re typing in a search and asking it a question, but then you have to find the answer. With ChatGPT, you can communicate with it on a human level using natural language and sort of iterate through the game to find the answer you’re looking for.
Earlier, I was talking about cooking. This is a silly little thing, but I literally created a web application for creating recipes and wine pairings using ChatGPT. And I have zero coding knowledge, but me and ChatGPT co-piloted with each other and made a little web app. I can click buttons and tell it what kind of food, from what region of the world and what kind of meal you’re having. And it’ll write a recipe and give you a drink pairing with it.
I actually had it working to the point where I had a couple of friends who were using it, just in a test environment. It was kind of cool.
7. The next one is a wild-card question. I know you have this new podcast and newsletter (“The Money Lap”) and you’re staying busy with that and you have a family. Last year, your crypto sponsorship fell through and you weren’t able to return to Kaulig Racing. I assumed you would pop in some other car, but you haven’t raced at all this year. Are you not wanting to race? What have you been doing with your time?
Honestly, I’ve done a poor job of communicating to the fan base. And maybe that’s because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t not want to race, but I also didn’t want to go to the racetrack every single week and not be in a car I wanted to drive.
That is no insult to all of the team owners out there who have given me opportunities in the past and the ones who called me this year. I fielded a phone call from a team that was interested in having me drive for them at least every other week — people checking in or seeing if I was available for a race. And the answer was just “no” every time.
And that wasn’t because I didn’t want to race. I didn’t want to race that (car) at that time. I’ve been on the road my entire career, and it was nice to take a year with my kids and my family and just spend time with them and prioritize them for awhile. I got to spend more weekends at home than I had since I was 13 or 14 years old, because even at that age, I was racing every weekend. So to spend an entire summer at home and go to the beach for a week and take the kids to the mountains a couple of times, we just had a nice time. This sport has been really good to me, and I felt I could take a year off.
I do want to race again. By no means am I done. And I’ve been in the simulator this year as well. I’ve been testing for Hendrick, and I’ll be in the simulator this week leading into Phoenix.
I’d love to race for a championship — nobody ever wants to count that out — but really, my ideal schedule would be to run 10 to 15 really high-quality races that I have a shot at winning. But the way to do that is to have a sponsor. I need to have a good sponsor to do that.
How bad of a taste did it leave in your mouth last year? Because you did have that sponsor. It seemed like, finally, everything was lined up. And then it just all goes away just so quickly. That had to be quite an emotional experience, I would guess.
It was. Incredibly. The Voyager partnership was a dream deal for me. But I’m not going to just victimize myself over it all. Crypto is a volatile thing. I thought maybe there could be volatility in that market, but I certainly thought my sponsorship could make it through at least the duration of the contract I had. Unfortunately, it didn’t. So it is a real bummer.
But I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I still had with Voyager and the relationships I made there. The chance to drive the car I drove at Kaulig Racing — I wish my year had gone better, but I don’t really regret any of it on the racing side of things. It was a lot of fun to do that and to be able to race the Next Gen at Spire was incredible.
With racing, you never know what can happen. Maybe I’ll get another shot here soon.
In the past, you’ve said, “Hey, I like to build teams. I like that process.” After being with Kaulig and seeing what it’s like to race in more competitive equipment, did that change your perspective to where you don’t want to be part of another rebuild?
Purely as a driver, I want to win a race. I want my kids to see me win a race. I want my wife to stand in victory lane with me one time. The ability to build race teams as a driver was a very unique skill I developed, but that isn’t something drivers typically imagine themselves doing. That is something I would love to do from the angle of an owner someday; I’ve always shown interest in that and would definitely be open to something like that — taking those skills of building a team as a driver and doing it as an owner.
But as far as Landon Cassill the driver, it’s really quite simple: I just want a trophy for my fans who’ve watched me race and for my family who, from one perspective, have only ever seen me struggle in my career.
It’s not always been a struggle; it’s been extremely fruitful and provided for my family. But it’s not easy going to the racetrack every week running 10th to 25th. So for my kids, I would love to put one in victory lane one time.
Landon Cassill hasn’t raced since the Xfinity Series championship at Phoenix last November. He hopes to get back in a car in the future. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
8. In your career, what is the deal that came closest to happening that ended up not working out?
I was at Hendrick (as a development driver), and then JR Motorsports sort of inherited the Hendrick (Xfinity) Series team. I ran part-time and won Rookie of the Year in 2008. National Guard re-signed with me to race in 2009, and it was really exciting. I had a great relationship with the Guard and those huge decision-makers there, and I was getting ready to go full-time racing (in Xfinity) the next year.
Then Jeff Gordon lost the Nicorette sponsorship that was on the 24 car, so that opened the door for the National Guard to move to his car. So I lost the National Guard sponsorship there. They managed to replace it with the Unilever partnership, and I met with all the Unilever folks and had done photoshoots with Dale Jr. and everything. Firesuits were made. I was going to drive the Klondike car and the Hellmann’s car. I still have the firesuits from those photoshoots.
But Navy left JR Motorsports at the end of 2008, so then my sponsorship got moved to the 88 car. That was so late in the game, there was nothing to replace it on the car. I still had a contract with Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports to drive another year, but they didn’t have an obligation to run me full-time, so that left me without a ride at all in 2009.
9. Who is a person you would be starstruck by when meeting them?
It’s not hard to get starstruck by just about anybody that’s big time. Folks like Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Jim France are less of a celebrity starstruck; shaking hands with that kind of figure is like meeting your boss’ boss type of thing.
In terms of celebrity starstruck? Gosh, this is pretty popular, but Taylor Swift. Probably wouldn’t have much to say around her.
10. What is the single most important skill a race car driver can possess?
Is narcissism a skill? It seems like the greatest athletes and high performers have to be unapologetically obsessed with themselves and obsessed with success at all costs. Unfortunately, sometimes it comes at the expense of relationships or people in the big picture of life. But hell if it doesn’t make you a good race car driver.
11. What life lessons from a young age stick with you and affect your daily decisions as an adult?
From a really early age, my parents taught me to know what I was trying to do and think about what my goal was. And “goal” does not mean outcome, necessarily, because you can’t really control outcomes. But “goal” means, “What are you trying to accomplish?” The sooner you can think of things from the perspective of, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” then the easier it is to make decisions, even on a daily basis.
12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one was Christopher Bell. He said: “What track do you think should be added to the schedule next?”
A track that doesn’t exist yet. We’re due for a new oval. Maybe a high-banked short track with a different shape than Bristol. Maybe it’s the shape of Richmond, but it’s got 30 degrees of banking. Maybe it’s the shape of Martinsville with 30 degrees of banking.
Banking is one of those things, just as a wow factor, where even people who don’t know anything about racing know racetracks with banking are spectacular. It doesn’t necessarily work for local racing, because a 30-degree banked track for local weekly series is not necessarily a good idea. But if you were NASCAR and or (Speedway Motorsports) and you were thinking about building a short track, I don’t know why you wouldn’t build a 30-degree banked racetrack.
This concludes the 2023 edition of the 12 Questions interviews. We’ll be back next season with an all-new lineup of questions and Cassill will submit his question for the next driver at that time.
2023 NASCAR Cup Series title race: A look at the final 4 contenders in Phoenix
(Top photo of Cassill in 2022: Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)