From Navy football to NASCAR: Jesse Iwuji's unique voyage

Eric Dehm
April 30, 2018 - 11:31 am

Photo courtesy Jesse Iwuji

As with many young men growing up in Texas, football was life for Jesse Iwuji. He was recruited by several schools before deciding to commit to the Naval Academy, where he would patrol the defensive backfield as a safety before graduating and heading out to the fleet as a surface warfare officer.

Eventually, the time came to start thinking about life after active duty. With a top flight education, experience as a leader and a proven ability to function in stressful environments, Iwuji would clearly have a lot of options. As he put more and more thought into life after active duty he'd come up with ideas of what he wanted to do, including what he calls his "wildest dreams." One of the wildest came to him while he was out to sea on deployment.

"I was in my room one night and I had a whiteboard on the wall," Iwuji recalls of the fateful moment. "I stood up and I went to my whiteboard and wrote 'become a race car driver.' That was when it started. That was January of 2014."

Four years later, Iwuji competes in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and ARCA series, most recently finishing 15th in the General Tires 200 at Talladega. Despite not taking up racing until his 20's, while most of his competitors started on that path in childhood, Iwuji believes he is now on the cusp of moving into NASCAR's top three series. He's earned solid sponsorship commitments from companies like BBMC Mortgage and Perfect Hydration and there's even a tie to his original sport, football, with his K&N Series car co-owned by retired NFL All-Pro Shawne Merriman. All of this has combined with his unique background has led to significant interest, including from the Navy, who recently included the now reserve lieutenant in their "Faces Of The Fleet" video series.

Iwuji says he couldn't be happier with how things are going on the track, but he's most proud of what he's accomplishing off of it, including being an example to his fellow veterans that they should never doubt their ability to succeed, or scale back on their post-service goals.

"I've gone on deployments, multiple deployments and spent a lot of time overseas," Iwuji says. "I came back and I'm pursuing my dreams at the highest level. I can sit here and be living proof to say that, 'hey, whatever in life that you want to do it's definitely possible.' Look at me."

You can hear the full interview with Jesse Iwuji below by clicking Play to stream now. To listen later, click Share and select Download from the available options.