Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. (sel) Jesse Iwuji — a NASCAR driver, Naval Academy graduate and former college football star — won’t let anything get in the way of making his dreams come true.
“I wrote it on my whiteboard and started pursuing it,” Iwuji said about envisioning his goal. “And through a lot of hard work and grind, four years later I’m racing in the NASCAR truck series.”
His NASCAR career has only begun, too. Iwuji’s ultimate goal is to get into the NASCAR Cup Series, which is the top division in NASCAR and has detained big names like Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.
“I want to get there and eventually be in a position where I can win races and then eventually win a championship in that series,” Iwuji said. “That’s what I want to work towards.”
Iwuji’s adoration of cars began as a child watching the classic cartoon show “Speed Racer,” but he never saw himself as a driver until much later in life. It wasn’t until he was deployed on the USS Comstock in the Northern Arabian Gulf that he started to look beyond his Naval career. There, he and his best friend, Ryan Hogan, would talk about their futures together into the early morning hours of duty.
“There were many of times when we were floating around in the NAG, and it was 3 o’clock in the morning and we’re just sitting there, you know, talking about life experiences and where we wanted to be,” Hogan said.
As an entrepreneurial guru, Hogan listened to Iwuji’s dreams of creating a drag race event, and gave Iwuji some of his first business tips. Out of those conversations was born The Red List Group that now hosts an ongoing drag racing series in Southern California.
“He understands that if he puts his mind to it, he can make things a reality,” Hogan said. “I think as soon as we got back from deployment, one, he created the event. … And then the second part — and this is the part that is just mind-boggling to me and is just truly impressive — is he started racing in NASCAR Whelen series, and then he has just blazed through all of these different brackets in NASCAR. It’s just because he doesn’t know how to fail.”
Iwuji isn’t blinded by the challenges ahead of him, either. His path includes frequent public appearances all over the country, squeezing in time to train even in the wee hours of the night, and creating a balance in also fulfilling his pledge to the Navy Reserve. He has another 11 years until he fulfills a 20-year tenure, something he is also determined to achieve.
“Balancing it,” Iwuji said, “it hasn’t been too bad, but there have been some tough times. Being in the reserves, we have to do our drill one weekend a month, two weeks a year. I have had some different drill weekends where I had a race that was on the same weekend and I had to rearrange my schedule.”
Yet his commitment remains solid. He cites a time that he did a race in Las Vegas, Nev., on a Friday night, then drove overnight to Coronado, Calif., to make it to his scheduled drill weekend. The dedication to anything he puts his mind to is evident, and is only one of the traits he has picked up throughout his lifetime.
“Service, what it’s taught me, is just being able to be super resourceful. I think that’s one of the biggest things we learn in the military. A lot of times we are given a little and we are expected to make a lot out of it. And that’s what we do. We do it because we have to. There is no other choice,” he said.
He adds that the military also taught him how to present himself in a professional manner to anyone he meets, be a team player and act as an ambassador for the U.S. and NASCAR. As he continues to go up the parabolic ladder, each of those traits will contribute to his success in addition to the support of his fans, who he is relying on to support him and recruit more of.
“He’s going to be a NASCAR driver,” Hogan said. “Like, there is no doubt in my mind. He will figure it out. I feel like I should be fanboying him right now and calling him constantly, because he’s going to be rubbing elbows with all the greats. Other people will be surprised, but I feel like I see who he is.”
Iwuji, though, doesn’t feel like he is an anomaly in success, because he can attest to how hard dream chasing is. He has gone through very challenging times in achieving his goal, and says that if people can believe in themselves even when the metaphoric lights are turned off, they’ll also make it through, and they’ll achieve whatever they put their hearts to.
“You have to fully, insanely believe in yourself, and believe that your goal is going to come true. That the vision that was is in your head, seeing yourself doing whatever it is, that it will come true. You have to believe that. You have to fully believe it without letting anything stop you from believing it,” Iwuji said.Read comments