U.S. Navy Lt. Jesse Iwuji receives 20-30 messages every day on social media and email from people who have been inspired by his journey from the military to racing.
He may receive even more this week; Lt. Iwuji will make his first NASCAR national series start in this weekend’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Reaume Brothers Racing announced Monday afternoon.
Currently running select races in the K&N Pro Series West & East and the ARCA Series, Lt. Iwuji, who is still an active member of the U.S. Navy Reserves and a graduate of the Naval Academy, will pilot the No. 34 Reaume Brothers Racing Truck in Sunday’s Truck Series event (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be definitely fun for sure,” Lt. Iwuji told NASCAR.com. “For me, still being in the Navy and serving and getting the opportunity to be the first Naval Academy graduate and serviceman who’s still currently serving to actually make that jump into a national series.
“It’s going to be a really cool experience, but something I think a lot of people who are out there serving can see and hopefully it helps inspire them and motivate them to go after their goals and dreams because it’s something a lot of people think they can’t do or couldn’t do. Hopefully with me doing it now, just showing them, ‘Hey it’s possible, if you want to get into racing, you can do it. If you want to get into anything else in life that seems super out of reach, you can do it.’ ”
Lt. Iwuji’s racing journey began in 2015, when he started racing Late Models before moving into the K&N Pro Series and ARCA Series. He’s worked his way through racing by support from the industry and partners, as several of his sponsors have military focus or appreciation — including one of this weekend’s partners Zulu Audio, whose owner is also a Naval Academy alum.
This national series start is bigger than himself, Lt. Iwuji said — because he was once like the fans sending him messages.
“… I didn’t come from a racing background, I didn’t come from a lot of money, I didn’t come from any of that,” Lt. Iwuji said. “I was more just kind of this random guy that decided to go after something really big and making that happen. … Even though it’s a ton of messages, a ton of emails … I try to get back to every single one because you never know who’s going to be the next big person. You never know if my one message I responded back to was what led them there because for me. I got to this point because I was just like them. And I reached to a whole bunch of drivers and people and for every 100 people I reached out to, only two or three actually got back to me.
“But those two or three are what helped me learn what I needed to learn to move a little bit forward and get to this point.”
This weekend, Lt. Iwuji hopes to “run well, finish the race, finish clean and progress from there.” Above all, he wants to learn a lot from his competitors and from the experience, as that will help him in his long-term goal; to make it as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver.
“In my mind, once I have a goal and … once the vision pops in my mind and I see where I’m going to be, I just go in full,” he said on his dream. “… As crazy as it might seem, as far-fetched as it might seem, I fully insanely believe that it’s going to happen. And then from there, it takes a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of grind.
“Basically every single day, I’m doing different things to try to put myself in the position to get to this goal, whether it’s getting a lot of laps in the racing simulator, reaching out to different sponsors and contacts for hours and hours and hours each night, building sponsorship presentations, developing different marketing packages to promote the sponsors I do have. All that kind of stuff is the effort that you put in on a daily basis.
“And I still have a regular day job — racing is not my full-time job, even though I’m racing a lot of weekends a year … I’m in the Navy Reserves. Navy Reserves happens on the weekends, regular day job during the week, racing on all the other weekends I don’t have Navy Reserve stuff going on and then also running a business, too …
“Doing all that together is a lot of work, but it’s what I have to do and I do it all because I insanely believe that I’m going to make everything happen that I want to happen in NASCAR.”