The Cassill Commitment
No half measures
There’s a scene in “Breaking Bad” in which the bodyman Mike Ehrmantraut tells Walter White, “No more half measures, Walter.”
Now, the context might’ve been vastly different on the AMC TV show, but the ideology applies directly to Cedar Rapids’ Roger Cassill — a man who has lived his first 50 years by the idea that nothing should be done halfway. Business or motorsports, parenting or working out, the level of commitment a person has to something is directly reflected in the results from each endeavor.
So that might tell you how a little bit about the Cassill Commitment when considering the fact that Cassill Motors has not only thrived but grown since he and his siblings Jay and Stephanie took over for their parents Dwayne and Janet; that he and his wife Colleen raised three kids, Zac (a professional fisherman), Landon (a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver) and Echo (who just started as part of an ice skating show at Disney World in Orlando), who have become very successful themselves; that he built a race team around Landon that won at every level they competed and all across the country; that he’s supported local racers and racetracks for decades, and that he’s become an Ironman Triathlete.
Commitment is the fundamental tenet that connects whatever Cassill sets his mind to.
No half measures. Ever.
Filling a void
Roger Cassill wakes up Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:30 a.m. The rest of the week it’s 4:30 a.m. For most people, that sounds a little nutty, and Cassill won’t necessarily disagree with you, but he’ll follow that up with a question: how bad do you want to be successful?
He’s up that early and in his private gym at his home in Cedar Rapids, preparing for his next Ironman-length triathlon. For those scoring at home, that’s a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon — a 26.22 mile run. He’s done the full length, and will again in Kona, Hawaii next fall, and has done the Ironman 70.3 (half distances of the full Ironman lengths) several times. It’s a level of athleticism he’s never seen — even when setting school records on the Cedar Rapids Jefferson track and field team.
Triathlon is what Cassill found when he left the road after seven years serving as spotter for Landon on the NASCAR circuit. As an empty-nester with an extreme competitive streak and that all-in mentality, a casual fascination with duathlons and cycling morphed into a full-fledged passion. After getting Landon into cycling, it was Landon who suggested an Ironman to get the ball rolling.
Roger found immediately that what he brought to the table when racing with Landon was exactly what he had to bring to the table in a triathlon.
“I think racing is more mental than physical, or even, to some extent, equipment,” Roger said. “When you do an Ironman, it’s pure mental. You’re in the water so long, then you’re on the bike for 112 miles. Then of course you have to get off and run a marathon.
“There’s a lot of connections with that to (auto) racing. That’s why you see guys likes Jimmie Johnson or Landon or Josh Wise that not only do they do well at it because they’re physically fit, but they’re mentally fit as well. There’s so many connections to it.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” has an oft-debated but widely-believed central focus — that if a person commits 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to something, they will become world-class in that field.
He hasn’t reached his 10,000 hours yet for triathlon, but qualifying for the Ironman World Championships certainly suggests he’s getting there.
Roger and Landon both have qualified for the Worlds, in fact, and Landon is the one who talks most about Gladwell’s theory. But to ask Roger, he thinks his son’s focus on commitment stems from long before he picked up “Outliers,” in a moment Landon said “I still cringe at whenever I hear it or tell anyone that story.”
They were at a national-level go-kart race in Denton, Texas, and Landon had qualified in pole position — in prime position for a national karting championship. During the break before the main event, Roger said Landon desperately wanted to go ride bikes with some other kids, despite Roger wanting Landon to stay and help prepare the go-kart. After debate back and forth, Roger relented, but warned Landon to be back at their trailer in an hour. When that hour came and went, and stretched into more than 90 minutes, Roger made a decision. He packed up all their equipment, forfeited Landon’s starting position and pulled out of the pits, bound for Iowa.
When he picked Landon up, the young racer begged to stay, but Roger’s point was clear: “I’m not here for me. I’m here to have fun with you. If you aren’t committed to this, we can go home and race at Hawkeye Downs each week and spend a lot less money doing it.”
Roger said they both cried, and from that moment on, Landon was locked in. Landon isn’t sure if that was the crystallizing moment that a dedication to commitment set in, but he knows that trait came from his father.
“I think the general, underlying theme with my dad is he’s an extremely competitive person, but when it’s a matter of trying to win — in business, triathlon or watching a car race — he’s got this amazing personality that’s so driven to work for things. That’s the thing about him that’s so fascinating,” Landon said. “Obviously that (racing story) is a moment in my life that stands out. It’s not a moment I’m proud of. But I think, for me, racing is always something I wanted to do. I didn’t decide that hurt me so bad that I’d work for racing from that point on, it was more I think that was the moment I realized that what my parents were doing was for me. If I wanted that to keep happening, I had to commit to it.
“The work ethic he has is definitely baked into me — and my brother and sister, for that matter. We have these weird, obsessive personalities. It’s a cool thing to have, I think.”
Roger Cassill doesn’t go to the racetrack much anymore, but the Cassill name is at the track three nights a week, every weekend in Eastern Iowa.
Cassill Motors can be seen prominently on the sides of racecars like that of IMCA Sport Mod racer Tony Olson, IMCA Modified racer Scott Hogan, and Big 8 Late Model racer Brian Gibson. Cassill supports from afar and checks results. But he only supports those who fit that central idea of Cassill’s life: commitment.
“People can boo Tony and get upset with him, whatever they want, but I guarantee you, at 6 o’clock (on week nights), if you want to know where Tony and his dad are at, go to their race shop,” Roger said. “They’re working on a racecar. So many other guys he’s beating; not so much. We were that exact same way.
“I only sponsor racecars because I’m a racer, and from that standpoint you have to look at the commitment. Take Brian Gibson and his level of commitment to it, it is amazing. Tony Olson and his dad Randy and their family; they’re on that car constantly. And I relate to that because that was me.”
Olson knows this first hand. He grew up going to school with Landon at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, and spent time in the Cassill household when he was young.
Roger and the Olson’s sponsorship relationship started out simply as a trade for a trailer to haul the racecars in, and blossomed into what Olson describes as “our biggest sponsor every year.” Roger’s return on investment doesn’t come in using Olson’s oft-winning racecar as a billboard, rather through driving business into the dealership when Olson and his family encourage those they know to shop or get service there.
Olson wears the Cassill logo with pride, he said, and draws a heavy amount of inspiration from the way Roger carries himself.
“He wants to know our game plan each year, where we’re racing and takes it personal. He wants to be a part of the team, and that makes it even more special,” Olson said. “He’s straightforward about everything we do.
“When Landon and I were friends in high school, I got to see how dedicated he was for their racing. I looked up to that.”
Mental strength and fortitude, desire, competitiveness and commitment — Roger Cassill uses those things to chase success, and does his very best to surround himself with people who do the same.
A used car dealership, a racecar sponsorship and triathlon don’t all seem to directly relate, but Roger sees them as inextricably linked. There’s no way to approach any of them differently, to him.
Maybe that’s why he’s a successful businessman and a world-level triathlete traveling to places like Ireland and Hawaii to complete 140 miles using his feet, legs and arms while you read this on your phone.
“Racing and Ironman commitment levels are total parallels,” Roger said. “While you look forward to the competition, the physical part of it is just hard. But the training and the journey getting there, the personal accomplishment of all of it is where it’s at for me.”
l Comments: (319) 368-8884; email@example.com