Football Player turned Driver: Jesse Iwuji eyes speed in NASCAR
By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
Jesse Iwuji has gone from the gridiron to being a fast-paced driver in NASCAR. The gladiator now bumps rubber at tracks around the country.
As a college football player, he played defensive back for the Naval Academy (Navy). He played for head coach Paul Johnson for two seasons, before playing for head coach Ken Niumatalolo in his final two seasons.
“For me, going into the Navy, the main reason was, coming out of high school, college football was a big goal and a dream of mine,” Iwuji said. “I got the opportunity to be recruited to play college football at the Naval Academy. Going there, I was able to get a great education and serve my country afterwards.
“I also got to play for a Division I football team, who had won a lot of games and did well. It was a win-win situation all the way around. Going to the Naval Academy was huge and that brought me into the Navy.”
During his collegiate career, he also saw action in the historic Army-Navy College Football game.
“It was awesome,” he said. “The hype around those games are huge. The rivalry has been so big for 100-plus years. Getting the opportunity to play college football on the biggest stage on national television in front of millions and millions of people around the country, it’s huge. It was really beat into our minds to hate Army; not hate in the battle, but hate in the sports way.
“To get on the field all four years and to beat them all four years in a row, that was huge. We won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy with those wins. We also got to go to the White House all four years after winning the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. That was an added bonus. Playing Army was huge. There were always a lot of energy at those games. We came in expecting to win, but we never knew what was going to happen. No matter what your record was coming into that game, we all knew anything could happen in between those lines.”
After leaving the playing field, he served our country as a Service Warfare Officer.
“As a Service Warfare Officer, I worked on ships,” Iwuji said. “My first four years in the Navy, I was on two different ships. I was on two different deployments on those ships. I’ve got to go to places like the Arabian Gulf. I got to see a lot of places and spend about 15 months total time on deployment. The rest of the time, we were in port in San Diego, or traveling around the United States. I got to experience and do a lot of cool things. I got to meet a lot of great sailors, and I’ve learned so much from it.”
Iwuji is presently in the Navy Reserves. His current assignment is with Naval Beach Group 1 (NBG-1) out of San Diego. They drill out of Ventura, California.
When he straps into a race car, he does not need special permission to race.
“I just have to be safe,” Iwuji added. “I think with the safety that we have in these cars in terms of our driver equipment, NASCAR has come a long way. When wrecks happen, those things help us be safe. The main thing is being safe, because when I have to go to work, I still have to go.”
Iwuji said he got the idea of competing in NASCAR was, because he liked cars and racing.
“When I got the opportunity to race in NASCAR, I took it to become a professional race car driver,” he said. “I want to move up the latter and get to the top of Motorsports. NASCAR seemed like the perfect sport to do it, so I began pursuing it. It was tough starting out, but with fan support and sponsors, along with networking and doing some entrenpuerial stuff, that’s helped me push my way through. That’s helped me get to the Truck Series.”
When looking for sponsors, Iwuji said that his background has helped. He has even worked with USAA, the company that works with military personnel and its families.
“Being in the Navy, along with being African-American, there hasn’t been a Naval Officer racing before me,” Iwuji said. “That has helped make me unique and that’s good on the marketing side of things. That also helps in promoting our sponsors, as they try to get a return on their investment. I do everything I can to continue to promote my sponsors. I’ve had a lot of different partners, whether it is on the track or off the track. Having all those different people on board, it has helped me in my journey.”
The 31-year-old Carrollton, Texas native made two appearances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2018. He started his first race in the Chevrolet Silverado 250 on Sunday, August 26th, 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.
In the Zulu Audio/Silk Title & Escrow truck, he finished 25th in the 32-car field. He picked up 12 points in the race. He worked with Josh Reaume in this race.
“Racing in the Truck Series has been interesting,” he said. “Racing for Josh has been cool. I’ve known him for the past few years. He was able to give me the opportunity to race for his team in the budgeted race that we had. Josh is a really good guy. He is very knowledgable with any kind of race car. He was able to give us a race truck to learn, as I didn’t want to do anything crazy. I didn’t want to drive out of my head. I just wanted to run clean and finish the race.
“He gave me a truck that worked all race weekend. We did our own race and out raced some people. That’s what we were aiming to do — and Josh allowed us to accomplish that.”
Iwuji also competed in the Lucas Oil 150 on Friday, November 9th, 2018 at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. He finished 27th in this race, driving the Zulu Audio/JBJE Transportation truck for Mike Mittler.
“Going to Phoenix was awesome.” he said. “It was a race that I had been wanting to get to for a few years now. I loved racing at that track a lot. We were there to click off some more laps, along with getting more experience. This will help me when I get to do a lot more races.”
He also participated in two races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Iwuji also raced in six races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
The Texas native also raced in six ARCA Racing Series events in 2018.
Iwuji is making plans to race for the 2019 season. He plans to begin in the Truck Series, then see what happens.
“Whenever I’m ready to move up, I will make that move,” he said. “With the trucks, I hope to gain more experience in my racing craft and get better as a driver.”
His goal one day is to compete in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
“It would be awesome, as racing in the Cup Series is the pinnacle goal of mine,” Iwuji said. “That’s what I’m aiming to do. Getting the opportunity to race up there would be very nice. That’s what I’m working on and grinding to do. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll get there.”
Some people consider their favorite drivers to be their heroes. In addition, there are more, who consider the men and women, who serve our country in the military as their heroes.
For a family this summer, Iwuji is their hero for what he did. Instead of doing nothing when he saw a bad scene, he decided to act.
“I saw a vehicle that was pretty much about to burst into flames,” he said. “I was able to stop and get that family to safety before the car exploded into flames. Once it happened, I was glad I was there, because nobody was stopping to help. My message to people is if you see something wrong, don’t be a passer-by. Make sure you stop and make sure you can help. You never know, as somebody could have been stuck in their vehicle. Somebody could have gotten hurt or died. I was able to help and they’re safe now. Their van was toast, but at least they are safe.
“I didn’t get their information. I did my part to help them. It would have been nice to do something good for them, but it wasn’t on my mind at the time. My mind said to get them to safety, along with getting the police and fire trucks there. After that, I left the scene.”