Jesse Iwuji isn't your typical NASCAR driver. It seems that most drivers have been racing from very young ages and have been dedicating their lives to racing. Jesse had two major commitments that occupied his focus before professional driving even became a reality: football and the Navy.
Despite his late start to racing, Jesse has had no trouble catching up quickly and making a name for himself. We talked about his football career at the Naval Academy, Army vs. Navy, how he got into NASCAR, and more.
KC: During your HS years, were you ever set on playing for a service academy? What was your recruitment like with Navy?
JI: When I was getting recruited, I was open to any school that was playing D1 football. I was not going to rule out going to a service academy. When Navy started recruiting me during my junior year, I thought it was a great opportunity. They were a winning team playing in bowl games and there was a chance to have a great career serving in the Navy after my playing days. It was a win-win for me.
KC: It’s no secret that the life of a student athlete is a challenge, but do you think it was even more difficult at the Naval Academy?
JI: Being an athlete, there were challenges in time management. As a regular student, you have much more time to focus on your classes and grades. As a student-athlete at a service academy, I had to not only worry about the 18 to 22 hours of classes I was taking and my Navy responsibilities, but also, I was going to practices, workouts, watching film, spending time in the training room, and other football related activities. I’d get home after 8 every night and have to catch up on all my school work so I didn’t fall behind. It was a lot, but it really helped everyone on the team learn to value our time.
KC: How were your experiences in the Army-Navy games? You got to sing second every year, so I can imagine it was a pretty great experience.
JI: It was really awesome to be a part of such a long Navy winning streak. I went to the Navy Prep School before I went to the Naval Academy and I beat Army there. I then went to Navy and beat Army every year I was there. I followed that by going back to the prep school as a coach and beat them again there, so it was nice to have six years of winning against Army.
There is so much energy that goes into that game. We’re in a sold-out NFL stadium in the last regular season college football game so all eyes are on us. There’s so much significance behind that game because it’s so much more than a game. Most of us were going to graduate and serve all across the world. We get to duke it out against each other for fun and bragging rights.
KC: How do you go from serving in the Navy to motosports? Have you always had a passion for racing?
JI: I’ve always had a passion for cars and racing, but never really invested much time into it because football was a priority. Once I graduated from the Naval Academy and sports were over, I needed to get into something that kept me competitive and got my juices flowing. I took my car to drag strips occasionally and had a lot of fun doing that. I started to notice that I had some skill on the track. After doing it for fun for a few years, I decided I wanted to take it to the highest level in 2014 and doors started opening towards NASCAR. I got my start in the Whelen All-American series and then moved up into the K&N Pro Series West in 2016.
KC: What have been your favorite experiences so far as a driver?
JI: Getting to go to different track while meeting the different people involved and the fans is always a great experience. What I’ve been able to do with this platform and use it to inspire people and helps fans means so much to me. This journey is showing people that no matter what your goals are, there’s always a way to accomplish it. People may tell you that you can’t do it, but they likely are telling you that because they weren’t able to achieve their dreams. I’m trying to achieve their dreams in any fashion, no matter what. Everything is possible if you apply simple concepts.
KC: What does Kill the Quit mean to you?
JI: Kill the Quit is to push yourself in ways in which you don’t normally push yourself. Remove the boundaries you have and push past the quitting bell. Most people know the time they usually quit. You have to keep going until there’s nothing left and then keep going some more.