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It Was Love At First Drive For This Air Force Pilot And His Race Car

Emilee White

When Ryan Roulette was a young boy, he was a big race car driving fan. 

Every Sunday, Roulette and his mother  would go over to a family friend’s house and watch racing. Although he loved motorsports, Roulette never thought it was something he’d ever get to do. As Roulette grew up, he and his family moved around a lot, but eventually settled outside of Knoxville, Iowa by the time high school rolled around. That’s when everything changed for Roulette.

“I had a lot of friends in high school that were really big into sprint car racing, Knoxville being the sprint car nationals  host every year,” Roulette said. “That's where I really got introduced to a different form of racing on dirt. I got the opportunity to go with some friends and learn about sprint car racing and see something completely different.”

It was a short time before Roulette got behind the wheel of a race car, and once he did, that was it for him — he was going to be a race car driver. 

After he graduated high school, Roulette made the decision to enlist in the United States Air Force and served for a few years before going to night school to get his college degree (he was also taking flying lessons to get his private pilot license). Early on in his military career, Roulette had an interest in commissioning, so since he was already going to school, why not at the Air Force Academy, he thought.

Photo credit: Ryan Roulette
“[The Air Force Academy] had a great program for enlisted personnel that allowed me to apply, and thankfully I got in.”

Now as a commissioned pilot in the Air Force, Roulette was ready to pursue his ~other~ dream job as a race car driver. To get a sense of what he had ahead of him in his pursuit, Roulette knew he needed advice from a pro, and reached out to Navy Reservist and NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji for some help. 

“At some point in time, I caught wind of him racing in the K&N series,” Roulette said. “I found a way to get a hold of him and we started chatting. He helped me out and explained to me how he managed being able to serve as well as race at such a high level. I’d been racing for 12-plus years so when I was talking to him, I was racing just on more of a local level. At the time I was racing sprint cars and did not know opportunities existed to take my racing to the next level and Jesse showed me what was out there in the asphalt world.”

To the next level he went and two years after that first phone call with Iwuji in November 2021, Roulette finished his first race in the NASCAR ARCA Series. As he continued to manage a full-time career in the military as well as racing at one of the highest levels, Roulette realized that the traditional “nine-to-five” work style was never going to be in the cards for him; he craved life on the race track. And while racing isn’t for everyone, Roulette isn’t stopping any time soon.

“[Racing] is something a lot of my friends don't quite understand,” Roulette said. “They're like, ‘Let me get this straight: what calms you and what excites you is going 170 mph down the back stretch of a raceway, apparently into a turn?’ Well, for someone like me, it is. For me, it’s getting behind the wheel, taking the car to the edge of being uncontrollable, then controlling it at a high rate, and being successful at it.”

Photo credits: Courtesy of Ryan Roulette