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CEDAR RAPIDS — The life of a NASCAR driver is a stressful one.
Whether it’s with a top-tier team or one that’s building and searching for funding, the man or woman behind the wheel has a lot to deal with.
For Cedar Rapids native Landon Cassill, the last few years have brought challenges of every kind while trying to find footing in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
“I’ve been through some interesting life experiences and job experiences,” Cassill said. “It’s definitely been a time of learning for me. I’ve been in good situations and bad situations and I’m grateful for all of them. A lot of times when I get down or I complain or something, my wife reminds me how lucky I am to be doing what I do for a living.
“I am extremely lucky. And I feel like I’m in the process of paying my dues and earning my stripes. And hopefully I earn the respect of my peers through all of this.”
Cassill certainly isn’t down or complaining these days.
The 24-year-old has finalized plans for full-time rides in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series for 2014. Cassill will return to Circle Sport in Cup, and will take over the No. 4 car for JD Motorsports in Nationwide, though logistical issues with Cup commitments may cause him to miss a few Nationwide races. He ran 33 of the 36 races in 2013 for Circle Sport in Cup, and 23 of the 30 races in a separate entry for JD Motorsports in Nationwide.
And no, neither team is top-tier, but at this point in his career, that’s not the end-all for Cassill. Both opportunities mean security and a chance to show people — most importantly people with dollars to fund race teams — his talents.
Because as any driver — no matter the level or series — will tell you, seat time is as or more important than any other factor for continuing a career.
“(Running both series) keeps me on the racetrack, it’s more opportunities for me to show my skills to potential sponsors,” Cassill said. “It’s really valuable for me to be running in both series every weekend.
“The Nationwide Series is a lot of fun for me to race in. It’s really competitive. There’s still opportunities for me to out-drive some guys in better equipment.”
Cassill acknowledged the frustration that can come with racing for a team that’s underfunded. With limited resources, he said “sometimes the car is just going as fast as it’s going to go.” Owners of those types of teams know the situation they’re in, Cassill said.
The challenge then becomes to grow both as a driver and a team, and he said — especially in reference to JD Motorsports — that the fit is such that he feels he can help.
“I really feel like I enjoyed myself there (at JD Motorsports) and made a big difference with that race team,” Cassill said. “I think they were pleased with my performance in that car compared with how it had run previously, so as a team, I think they decided to invest more in me and see if I can be a part of moving that team up a few more spots.”
The short term goals for 2014 in the Nationwide Series are to improve the average finishing position from being a 20th to 25th place car to potentially a 15th to 20th-place car, something he said is easily capable with the people in place.
Being able to handle methodical progress like that and not be overcome by frustration is a lesson that’s become invaluable over the course of his career. He said knowing the situation and accepting it has “taught me how to be a professional race car driver rather than just a race car driver.”
Dealing with the stress and the pressure to prove himself has been a “humbling experience” for Cassill, and hopefully all the work will pay off one day.
That’s the goal, at least.
“I think so, or at least I hope so. It’s what I’m banking on,” Cassill said. “To me, a high-pressure situation has been knowing, ‘If you don’t qualify for this race, you probably don’t have a job next week,’ and that could affect the outcome of your career. There’s been times in my career where I felt like my whole job, my whole profession depended on one lap and one qualifying effort.“But I feel like I’ve had the chance to race in low-pressure situations (too) where you’re not under the spotlight, you’re not under the microscope and I’ve been able to sit back and watch how the champions do it. That’s kind of been huge for me and my growth through all of this.”