Jesse Iwuji, an officer in the United States Navy Reserve who has been serving his country since 2010 after attending the United States Naval Academy from 2005 to 2009, currently competes part-time in the NASCAR Truck Series, and he serves as an ambassador for veterans in both the NASCAR and military communities.
Iwuji is currently working with financial services company USAA this Veterans Day to honor members of the United States Armed Forces through the âV Challengeâ.
To participate and to challenge other to show their appreciation for the sacrifices made, simply draw the âVâ symbol with the initials of a special veteran(s) on the palm of your hand, snap a photo and then share it through social media using #HonorThroughAction.
Veterans Day, also known asÂ Armistice Day, is tomorrow, Monday, November 11. It marks the 101st anniversary of the signing of the armistice, significant in that it ended the World War I hostilities between the Allied nations and Germany back in 1918 âat the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th monthâ.
The day serves as an annual reminder of the sacrifices made by those in uniform to keep our country free.
Iwuji shared his âV Challengeâ below.
We had the chance to interview Iwuji about his path to get to where he is today, both as a veteran and as a driver, and he shared with us some of his future goals.
Beyond the Flag: Can you start off by telling me a little bit more about the Veterans Day âV Challengeâ initiative with USAA (how it began, what goals you and USAA have for it, etc.)?
Jesse Iwuji: USAA is celebrating Veterans Day by encouraging all Americans to honor the veterans in their lives by Honor Through Action. One simple way is with USAAâs âV Challengeâ â simply draw the âVâ symbol with the initials of a special veteran(s) on the palm of your hand, snap a photo and then share it through social media using #HonorThroughAction, challenging others to show their appreciation this Veterans Day. For me, I am honoring Keith Lisante and Blake Carter. Both of those guys I went to the Naval Academy with, played football with and knew them for many years. They both served with me in the Navy, both really good friends of mine. Both of them are no longer with us today, but the things that they have done and the sacrifices that they have given are huge and always will be something that is deep and remains close to my heart. This weekend I want to honor them as they have done a lot for this country.
BTF: What got started first: your interest in the military or your interest in NASCAR?
Iwuji: The interest in military came first. Prior to joining the military, I had never raced before. I didnât grow up racing, didnât have that in my family. Both of my parents are immigrants from Nigeria and came over to the United States in the 1980s.
Thereâs not a lot of auto racing in Nigeria and not a lot of that in our culture. Halfway through school at the Naval Academy, the racing bug bit me, bringing me towards motor sports and racing. I always knew that I eventually wanted to get into it. I didnât know exactly what form of racing that I was going to get into, how I wanted to do it, or where I was going to go with it, I just knew that I wanted to be part of anything that had to do with cars, especially cars going fast. Military definitely came first and because of the military, it did open up doors for me to be able to get into racing later.
BTF: How important is it to you that NASCAR is so supportive of veterans, retired military, active duty servicemen and women, etc., and is that one of the reasons that has attracted you to the sport and kept your interest in it?
Iwuji: With NASCAR being the sport it is and having the patriotism that it does, thatâs a big thing for me. Each weekend, NASCAR is always doing everything they can to honor our service members, whether its Veterans Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend, or any weekend. NASCAR is the most patriotic sport in the United States in my opinion. For them to always honor our military that means a lot to me as I am still serving and for those that have paid their dues to this country. On big weekends like this one, Veterans Day, itâs great to see everything being done to honor our military. I personally canât wait to see a lot of service members here at the track in Phoenix. I hope they enjoy their time here because they deserve it as they do so much for our country.
BTF: You have started and operated several businesses recently; how do you balance all of that with being in the Navy and as a part-time NASCAR driver?
Iwuji: Balancing everything I am doing in the business world, NASCAR and the Navy takes a lot of time. I donât have regular work days, I donât have nine to five work days. Iâm up around six in the morning and donât go to sleep until around midnight. Itâs something you have to do if you want to work for yourself, grind for yourself, and make things happen. Currently right now I have a business where I put on racing events at different tracks (in California, Arizona, and Texas), another business that is a trucking company that is focused on hauling loads with semi-trucks, and recently I have dived into real estate property management. Iâm continuing to build my little mini empire and have this sustain me as I continue to pursue my goals and dreams in NASCAR.
BTF: What have been some of the highlights during your time competing in NASCAR and what have been some of the most rewarding parts of your time serving in the Navy?
Iwuji: Highlights serving in the Navy include going all around the world, visiting different ports, going on deployments, and spending time with my fellow sailors on a ship. When youâre on a ship and out there, itâs only the guys on the ship. We donât have anyone else. Having that bond with your fellow sailors and knowing that you all have each otherâs back, knowing that you will treat each other right, is pretty incredible. I canât name on particular instance as there have been so many great times. In NASCAR, Iâve had the opportunity to race at many different tracks, moving up the ranks of NASCAR, and each time I move up a level, itâs always a big deal for me. Itâs me continuing to go along this journey, taking the next step. Some of the cooler experiences have taken place off the track when we help people and give others cool experiences.
BTF: What are your future military goals? Do you plan to retire after 20 years in the military?
Iwuji: My ultimate goal is to get all the way to that retirement year in the military; thatâs why I am in the Navy Reserves right now. Being able to say that I retired in the military after twenty years of service would be very cool for me, so itâs definitely one of the goals I am going after.
BTF: What are your future NASCAR goals? Do you plan to compete full-time at any point, or move up to Xfinity or Cup?
Iwuji: Right now I am in the NASCAR Truck Series and the next step is the Xfinity Series, so the goal is to move up to that level. Iâve already gotten approval, so right now, the goal is to put together everything else, sponsorships, finding the right team. Once that happens, eventually do the same thing for the Cup Series. Ultimate goal is the Cup Series as thatâs where Iâd like to be eventually. I know itâs going to take a lot of work.
BTF: On a different note, who are your picks to win the Truck, Xfinity and Cup championships this year with two races left in each series?
Iwuji: Thatâs a tough question because you never know whatâs going to happen. NASCAR is different than football, different than basketball, where you can easily predict who is going to win. That simply doesnât happen in racing. For the Truck Series, I like Brett Moffitt. In the Cup Series, I think Kevin Harvick has a really good shot. Iâm liking his momentum especially after that win in Texas.
BTF: I canât not ask you about the experience you had last summer saving a family from a burning car. From what Iâve read, it almost seems like you did that without thinking twice even before things got really bad; what do you credit most for that instinct, your military experience, racing experience, or other?
Iwuji: Iâd credit my military experience in a way, but itâs more instinct. Frankly, itâs simply being a good person. It didnât take any kind of training that I had, outside of being a good person. When I was driving that day, I saw that there was a family with fluid leaking under their van, which caught on fire. Everybodyâs driving by and Iâm sure other people saw it, so I said to myself I am not going to keep driving, I am going to stop and help them. They donât see the fire brewing, and what if it just erupts into a fireball, which it did. Right after I helped move them away from the car, it erupted into a fireball. Iâve never seen a car go up into flames that quick. It was pretty crazy.
BTF: Have you ever had any experiences along those lines in the Navy itself over the years that have maybe not gotten as much recognition as the burning car?
Iwuji: Thereâs a lot we do in the Navy, but at the end of the day, we are silent warriors. We go out there to serve, deploy, and we donât need any media attention for that. We volunteer to serve and all we ask is that people respect what we do for our country. Without our military, the world would be a different place and many people recognize that.
BTF: Is there anything else you care to share that you would like fans to know about your journey to getting to where you are today (military, NASCAR or anything else)?
Iwuji: I just thank all currently serving military for their service and want to wish all our veterans a Happy Veterans Day. Thank you for the sacrifices you make in service to our country.
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Thank you to Jesse Iwuji for your time this past week and to all veterans for their service, and best wishes to them all; have a Happy Veterans Day!