Meet The Extraordinary Racing Driver Who Went From Navy To NASCAR

Jesse Iwuji is a sensation in the racing community, being the first active duty armed forces member to compete in NASCAR, and one of only a handful of African American drivers. He discovered his love for motorsport in his 20’s while stationed in San Diego as a Surface Warfare Officer. His story is a reminder that anything is possible in life with the right mindset.









WATCH: How A Sailor Turned NASCAR Driver!

Discover more: his final shore assignment on active duty, this Sailor spent his weekends at the race track. As he continues to serve as a reservist in #AmericasNavy, he’s chasing his dreams to become a NASCAR driver. ⚓🏎 #FacesOfTheFleet #ForgedByTheSea #MeetJesse

Posted by The Versed on Friday, April 20, 2018

An unlikely story

When you look around the NASCAR paddock, you’ll find that these fine drivers have been honing their craft since a young age, rising through the karting ranks and midget car formulas for many years.

The reality is, to get to the pinnacle of motorsport, you need a lot of experience, a lot of speed, and most significantly, a lot of money. NASCAR is a savage industry. Only a select few will ever get to race at speeds over 200mph on historic tracks such as Daytona and Talladega.

This is why the story of Jesse Iwuji has all the parts of a perfect Hollywood screenplay. Iwuji grew up in Texas to working-class parents from Nigeria. He recounts the story of his father entering the United States for the first time with just $200 to his name.

That day, his taxi driver drove an abnormally long route to his destination and charged him $180, for what should have been a $90 journey. His parents taught him that there were going to be cuts and bruises along the way, but the secret was to never lose focus. For Jesse’s mother and father in their formative years in New York, that focus was survival. After finally finding their feet in Carrollton Texas, they welcomed Jesse Iwuji into the world. They couldn’t have been aware then, but a star was born.

“Some people ask me, what is my story all about? why I’m doing this? And I tell them I want to inspire people to see where they can go in life, and just tell them it is possible. When you’re knocked down, get back up. Keep going. Run the extra mile. If you put your mind to it, you’d be amazed what you can get done.”

Learning the value of teamwork

Jesse’s childhood was neither spectacular nor mundane. He was a talented athlete, showing great promise as a footballer. It was these skills that allowed him to play for the Naval Academy from 2006-2009 where he participated in the Division I Championship.

He graduated with a Bachelors of Science and was commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy. Working in jobs such as First Lieutenant Weapons Officer, Legal Office, Main Propulsion Engineering Officer and Force Protection Officer on board ships such as USS Dextrous, USS Warrior and USS Chief, Jesse quickly travelled to areas of the world he never thought he never thought he would.

It wasn’t just exploring new cultures and frontiers that gave Jesse a fresh outlook on life, it was the colleagues he travelled with along the way. Teamed with men and women from diverse backgrounds, Jesse soon began to realise that individualism – something he had been taught his whole life – had to be put aside to succeed in this new environment.

“They will break you down and build you back up like a well-oiled machine.”

Getting the wheels in motion

Teamwork became crucial to the success of Jesse’s assignments and the safety of his crew. Jesse began to gain a new perspective on life. Contrasting with his formative years, Jesse now found himself as an important cog in an enormous machine.

Onboard the ships, there was simply no room for error. Hard work, dedication and a relentless pursuit of perfection opened his mind up to a place it had never been before.

In 2010, Jesse had another lightbulb moment at Irwindale Speedway in Southern California. He took his Dodge Challenger onto the track and set a series of blistering times for a rookie. Even more significantly, he quickly discovered a new passion for speed. Back in the Navy, his colleagues encouraged him to pursue his passion. A fellow sailor with entrepreneurial flair encouraged Jesse to push further, helping him devise a plan to fund his racing career. This set the blueprint.

“The people you meet on the ships are some of the smartest, most influential individuals you will ever meet in life. The Navy has so many smart, amazing people that can change your life. If it wasn’t for the Navy, I wouldn’t be here racing today.”

NASCAR awaits

With the support of his new family inside the Navy, Jesse began to relentlessly pursue his ambition of becoming the first active-duty armed forces member to compete in NASCAR.

While to most people this would seem a ridiculous goal given his little driving experience, Jesse knew that the relentless pursuit of perfection he’d adopted in the Navy was all the fuel he’d ever need.

Finding similarities

Being successful in NASCAR is all about teamwork. The relationship with your pit crew, engineers, team bosses and sponsors is critical.

To achieve results in racing, as in the military, a body of people must pull together in the same direction, and toward a shared goal. And so, unsurprisingly, Jesse and his team quickly rose through the ranks of NASCAR.

With a natural talent for racing hard, Jesse found success in the K&N and ARCA series, generally perceived as stepping stones to the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series. He attributes much of this success to the life lessons he learned in the Navy. It taught him how to confront adversity, to keep believing, even when the cards are stacked against you.

“This is my story. This is what makes me unique. I’m the first African American from the military to ever race in NASCAR. I’m never going to stop chasing my dreams. Life’s too short to ever give up.”

In February 2018, Jesse qualified for the ARCA race at Daytona for the first time, a dream come true for any racing enthusiast, let alone a budding NASCAR driver. While the race didn’t turn out the way he had hoped, he is very much on his way to the top of NASCAR. With sponsors chasing him down for his combination of raw speed and marketability, the future looks bright for the 30-year-old.

This is the life of Jesse Iwuji, a man on a mission to prove that, no matter what the sceptics might say, anything is possible in this world if you put your mind to it.