They Lead

How Jesse Iwuji Made A Successful Career In Sports And Service

Emilee White

Ever since Jesse Iwuji was a little kid, he loved cars and he loved racing.

“I was four or five years old, I used to watch reruns of the show “Knight Rider” with David Hasselhoff,” Iwuji said. “It was awesome. That's what started getting me into cars, and I used to watch all other kinds of car shows and stuff on tv.”

While he loved to watch car racing, Iwuji wasn’t really into racing himself growing up. Even when Iwuji went off to college, he continued to watch car videos on Youtube. One show Iwuji used to watch was “Top Gear” — it was a show about all different kinds of cars — and whenever there was a comment about a car part or anything he didn’t understand, he would research it. And Iwuji continued to do this during his free time, learning more and more about cars, motors, etc. This inevitably led Iwuji to a professional career on the race track, but cars and racing weren’t the only important things in his life.

Jesse Iwuji

Iwuji played on his high school’s football team and when he reached college football recruiting eligibility the summer after his junior year, the US Naval Academy began recruiting him. Iwuji had heard great things about Navy’s football program from a former teammate and knew it would be a great opportunity for him to go to a great school, play for a great football team, and have a career immediately after graduation. So when it was time to decide what school he wanted to go to, it was an easy decision for Iwuji and he committed to Navy.

“I just looked at it as a great opportunity and I jumped on it,” Iwuji said. “I knew it was going to help me set myself up for success in life.” 

Once he graduated from the Naval Academy, Iwuji went on active duty, and as he began to get paid, he eventually saved up enough money to buy a car, a Dodge Challenger. After some modifications, Iwuji started to get his feet wet with racing and would take his car to a drag strip and drag race with it. Iwuji’s next car purchase was an ‘06 Corvette C6 Z06 that he started to take to road course track days during any free time he had on weekends. As he neared the end of his required active duty time, however, Iwuji needed to figure out what he was going to do next. 

“Because I was doing a lot of track days, I was like, ‘Why not try to become a professional race car driver?’,” Iwuji said. “That's where that goal, that dream initiated. I wrote it on the whiteboard. I put that whiteboard on my wall and I began following it. I began researching, I began trying to put together all the pieces [and] parts, and trying to figure out what resources were necessary to make it happen.”

Iwuji's dream came true, and through grit, determination, faith, and action he now has climbed the ranks of professional racing into NASCAR. The beginning of his racing career seemed steep at first, but Iwuji’s willingness to grind propelled him forward in sports and service. 

Photo credits: Courtesy of Jesse Iwuji