A Weekend of Speed
It’s a hot Friday afternoon at the New-Hampshire Motor Speedway. In the Nascar Sprint Cup teams' garages, tension is high. With less than 10 minutes remaining to the last practice session before qualifying, every team is rushing to release the car one final time for a few quick laps with the final setup.
It’s loud. It's crazy. Engines start, cars leave pit road almost on a drift. Only 5 minutes left... One of the last cars to go on the track is Landon’s Cassill number 38. The 27 year-old driver was almost born racing and has now made it to the Sprint cup, the pinnacle of American motorsports. At this level, every team is fully-committed to win the battle in these modern coliseums known as racetracks, where the smell of oil and burned tires remind you that no compromise is being made to get to the checkered flag first.
At first, you may think that Landon likes to relax when he leaves the racetrack. Not at all... When practice is done, he leaves for a run. Stock car racing is not enough for him. Landon is also racing triathlon during some of the 12 weekends of the year that he is not racing his car.
“My dad was doing duathlons, the Iowa native says. He always pushed me to try it out because this would elevate my fitness inside the car. I reached the point where I could do more for myself and for my team to be a better race car driver. My dad and I signed up for an half Ironman. This was before my first day of training for a triathlon! Then I started and it developed into a passion for triathlon, but also I realized that Nascar is an endurance sport and that triathlon was improving my value as a race car driver.”
If fitness improvement is what first got Cassill into endurance sports, many other strong incentives pushed him to develop himself as an athlete. The results came pretty fast. In 2015, he put in a lot of effort into training and got the rewards with a 4 hours, 30 minutes time at Ironman 70.3 Muncie. Here, he qualified for Ironman 70.3 World championship in Austria. Not a bad way to start for a beginner who considers himself a good swimmer, decent runner and a cyclist who is still on a steep learning curve.
“I basically started from nothing in cycling and got into it because of triathlon. I’m getting better but I am really a triathlon-trained cyclist. I can maintain a good race pace for long but in a bike race, when it gets really fast, I would get my butt kicked!”
Following this multi-tasking athlete in the Nascar garages allows anyone to realise one thing: Landon likes to race. Period.
“Nascar and triathlon racing are pretty similar because you can’t really focus on other racers. You first have to focus on yourself and race your race. In Nascar, the car needs the right setup and the driver must be in a good relationship with the track!”
Many race car drivers use endurance sports to get fit. Some focus on cycling, some like the whole triathlon thing. All of the guys race at the top level of Nascar, but not all in the same teams, the same cars and the same budgets. But outside of the car, only the legs talk and Landon excels. He does, however, remain humble.
“I don’t know if I’m the best triathlete in Nascar! It’s been a fun journey training with other drivers that are triathletes like Josh Wise, Jimmie Johnson and Trevor Bayne. We’re all athletes and competitive. I think Josh and I are pretty competitive with each other and we have a lot of fun signing up for races together and training for them.”
Nascar drivers are getting in pretty good shape and this trend is becoming the standard. Reed Ferguson is Landon Cassill’s race engineer at Front Row Motorsports. He sees the difference between a super fit driver and the one who has other hobbies. “Landon is really sharp throughout the entire race. He’s gives us really great feedback. He’s good at analyzing the car and what’s going on during practice. His fitness level is certainly a factor.”
Better be, ‘cause the New-Hampshire 301 is going to be a hot one on this summer day...
On Sunday, thousands of true Nascar fans gather around the track, the tension is building and everyone gets ready. The pressure is now on Landon, who has to go as fast as possible out of every corner. He likes to race to the limits, just like he does while running in the final miles of a triathlon.
“My family was in the car business and I dedicated my whole life to it. I’ve put my ten-thousand hours into racing to become a professional, the same way as an athlete in triathlon or cycling would do. In all these sports, you’re trying to get to the finish line before anybody else; we’re just using different vehicles. You learn from everything you do in every sport and can apply it across the disciplines. For example, triathlon helped me refine my nutrition in the race car. Now I use the same nutrition plan in a 4-hour Nascar race and in a 4-hour Half-Ironman triathlon.”
Every week, race day is the climax of all the work that has been made since Monday morning. Just like in endurance sports, the performance depends a lot on what has been done prior to the race. “We get a lot of time to work on the car at the race track, but speed is built at the shop in North Carolina. The handful of guys that are at the track are just a small sample of the Front Row Motorsports team. We got a full team of guys that are working at the shop right now, preparing my car for next week’s race and it’s pretty cool that they do this important part of the work, put the car in the hauler and then we tune it up at the track and hope for the best in the race.”
Landon gets in the car on the starting grid just like he lines up at the beach, waiting for the gun to off and ready to swim his heart out.
“I’ve had some highs and lows in my career. At some point, I was not sure I would be able to keep going so now I appreciate each moment and each opportunity a lot more than a few years ago.”
Finally, the announcer says the famous words: “Drivers, start your engines!”
For Landon, it doesn’t get any better than this.
The green flag is waved and off they go, racing to every turn and every intense pit stops.
Racing to the limits. On the track. In the water. On the road. Always.