Editor’s note: Marla Bautista is a military spouse and freelance author/writer. She attended her first race at Pocono Raceway as part of the NASCAR Salutes refreshed by Coca-Cola program over the summer.
NASCAR is the most patriotic sport in America, so it’s no surprise there is a current service member racing on the track. Jesse Iwuji, naval officer and NASCAR driver, proves he puts the go in goals.
During a recent interview Jesse said, “NASCAR is not like any other sport. I love how NASCAR is set up like the USA. It’s the land of opportunity. If you have grit, ethic and are willing to grind, you can turn yourself into something big.”
Iwuji currently races for the Reaume Brothers Racing team in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Born to Nigerian immigrant parents, Jesse was one of four children raised in Carrollton, Texas. His parents taught him the importance of academic achievement and self-preservation. With the discipline instilled by his parents, he went into adulthood with a plan. A plan to be immensely successful.
After being recruited to the prestigious Naval Academy as a football player and playing for four years, he began working as a Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy. He loved serving his country, but he wanted more. He had an unrelenting desire to achieve greatness. Thus conceived, the whiteboard. Even in college, Jesse had a way of strategically working toward his goals. Using a whiteboard, he wrote down his long-term goals.
1. Race in the NASCAR Cup Series
2. Make $25 million per year profit
3. Start a family by age 35
Jesse’s climb to glory didn’t come without its challenges. His determination is derived from sheer will and brawn. He came into NASCAR with no money, no fan base, and over time, he captivated an audience with his story and earned his place in NASCAR.
Having sponsors is crucial in NASCAR, and Jesse knows this firsthand.
“Being able to connect with brands while representing your authentic self, is key in building lasting relationships and increasing your value as a driver,” he said.
It’s no secret the cost of racing has created a distinct separation between drivers and teams. But Jesse is resilient and has overcome every obstacle he’s faced. As a service member, he was taught to propel forward, even in the face of adversity. Jesse started his own small business to help cover his racing expenses.
There are many drivers and employees throughout NASCAR who are veterans or has someone in their family who has served in the armed forces. A study conducted by Pew Research Center found that there are over 18 million veterans in the United States; many of them having served in foreign wars dating back to the Korean War and earlier.
Iwuji is the only current active service member racing in one of the three national NASCAR series. We asked Jesse what his future military plans were and he said, “I will continue my time in the Navy Reserves until my retirement, and then who knows.”
Being patriotic was effortless and doing good unto others was something that came natural to Jesse. He recently teamed up with USAA for its Honor Through Action Campaign. This campaign focuses on expressing gratitude for Americans who have served.
At every race NASCAR shows its gratitude to our nation and the service members by inviting them to the track, creating programs like NASCAR Salutes that allows military members and their spouses an experience no amount of money can buy, and enlisting incoming service members in front of the most patriotic sports fans in America.
NASCAR is not any other sport. NASCAR fans are not like any other fans. Their love of country is second to none. Service is a form of patriotism. Without the sacrifice of our brave men and women with wouldn’t have the freedoms we exercise today. Thank you for your sacrifice and thank you for your service.