Landon Cassill back in a Late Model at Hawkeye Downs

Cedar Rapids native and NASCAR Cup Series driver was in town Monday testing a Late Model for Military Night race at Hawkeye Downs in June

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Landon Cassill drives a racecar for a living. It would be understandable if he didn’t want to drive a racecar on his day off.

But like so many others he competes against weekly in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Cassill is a racer, not just a racecar driver. So on his off day Monday, he was back in a racecar — this one owned by former Iowa wrestler and two-time NCAA national champion Mark Ironside.

Cassill was at Hawkeye Downs Speedway to test because on June 16, the Cedar Rapids Jefferson grad will race Ironside’s Late Model at the track’s Military Night, which is sponsored by Cassill Motors.

Cassill got to Hawkeye Downs at 9 a.m. Monday, and was there until around 2:30 p.m. — all in an effort to make the car fast.

He’s a racer. He doesn’t want to come to his home track just to make an appearance.

“This was really for the fun of it more than anything,” Cassill said. “I would do this anyway. These guys are trying to improve their cars on a weekly basis, so if I can help them, too, that’s great.

“It’s really cool. Mark has a nice racecar and I’m pleased to drive it. It really was just a lot of hard work from Mark and Brian (Gibson) and Jeff (King). They’re the ones who prepared it. I’m more than happy to come out to support the track.”

 

It was sheer coincidence and timing that linked Cassill with Ironside, who also is a prominent Jefferson grad. The two hadn’t met before Monday’s test session, but Ironside said he was attached to Cassill’s hip the entire time they were at the track, soaking in all he could about how the car works and what changes he can make in the future.

They even got on track at the same time toward the end of the session, with Cassill jumping in track champion Brian Gibson’s Late Model briefly to let Ironside follow him and learn a bit.

The conversations between Cassill and Ironside were a study in two athletes, intense in their competitiveness, concentrating hard on making the car the best it could be — regardless of who’s behind the wheel. That kind of attitude confirmed how glad Ironside was to have Cassill race his car.

“It’s great for me to have a professional get in the car and work with it,” Ironside said. “I’m super excited to be able to team up with someone like Landon, of his caliber, and not just because he’s in NASCAR but the kind of person he is. The thing I’ve learned just being around him (today) is how much he thinks into things and how much effort he puts into this. He’s got a huge work ethic, and that’s what I appreciate most about him.

“I thought we’d come out today just for a couple hours to shake the car down and come back on race night to do the best he can, but obviously he’s a competitor.”

Cassill also was back in town Monday night to be inducted into the Jefferson High School Hall of Fame for former students, held during Jefferson’s senior recognition night.

The last time Cassill raced at Hawkeye Downs was May 2009, when he was back for a Super Late Model race. Making laps at his home track took him back, Cassill said, and other than some more age to the asphalt, he felt like it was the same Hawkeye Downs he remembered.

 

Opportunities to come back to race haven’t been plentiful, in large part because scheduling is tough when you’re racing in the Cup Series nearly 40 weeks out of the year, competing in triathlons and doing sponsor appearances to boot.

Cassill’s last few weeks on the Cup circuit have been a mixed bag. He ran inside the top 15 at various points at Texas, Bristol and Richmond, and was in the top five at Talladega before breaking a drive shaft on a late restart. In the last five races, he said he’s had competitive cars but not the luck to go with it.

“I feel like we found speed the last three or four weeks, we just have had some misfortune that has kept us from putting together the runs we’re capable of,” Cassill said. “We just haven’t had it come together yet, but I think when we do, we’ll find ourself more consistently in the top 20.”

Monday was the first time Cassill had been behind the wheel of a Big 8 Series Late Model, which is the rule set raced at Hawkeye Downs weekly. The eight-inch tires the cars run on took a little getting used to for Cassill, who last would’ve been on a tire that size while running Modifieds at Hawkeye Downs when he was 12-14 years old.

Ultimately, while the gratitude of racing the car extended both ways from Cassill to Ironside, being around and working with a Late Model again had the 27-year-old thinking about making a purchase of his own.

That might help get him back to Hawkeye Downs a little more frequently.

“It’s fun to tune on a racecar like this,” Cassill said. “Eventually at some point I just need to have my own Late Model to bring out here. We just need to get one, that’s all there is to it.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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