In all things Jesse Iwuji does, there are two constant elements: his love of country and his fighting spirit. This talented driver went from a D1A college football player to a lieutenant in the United States Navy and is now the only current driver in all of NASCAR at the national levels that has ever been in the military. It has been key for Iwuji, who is currently serving in the Navy Reserves, to honor his country while pursuing and attaining excellence. It should come as no surprise that he has championed companies and charities that give back to our men and women in uniform.
Q: What were you most afraid of during your transition? And how did you work through those fears?
I did not necessarily have any big fears during my transition because I began quite a bit early to set myself up for a future after active duty. In 2015 while I still had about 2 1/2 years left on active duty, I started my own business and I started it because I knew that there was going to be a time where I was going to leave active-duty and transition to the Navy reserves and I was going to need a source of income that I could have that would be similar to what I was making in the Navy and eventually grow to be a lot more.
Q: What did you do well during your transition?
During the last six months of my active duty time I really worked on networking and meeting as many people as possible to continue to grow my business that I had and have it become something that could give me sustainable income. I did take a day job for about a year and four months after active duty to help supplement some of the income that I needed only because while Racing and NASCAR I needed extra income to help offset some of the cost that I was incurring.
Q:What did you do poorly during the transition and what did you learn failure?
The one thing I did do poorly during my transition was the final things that I needed to get done in the Navy as far as VA and medical items. I did not go to the VA until almost 2 years after leaving active-duty. Many of us during active duty get injuries or have different things happen to us and a lot of us try to stay strong and act like they are things that don’t bother us but there will come a time where those injuries or whatever is going on with you will begin to surface. If you did not properly document these issues correctly while active duty or if you did not seek help while active duty it will be very difficult down the road to receive any kind of assistance that you need from the VA.
Q: What do you miss most about the Navy? And do you stay connected to the military brotherhood?
There are a few things that I miss about active-duty time like knowing that you have a steady consistent paycheck coming every two weeks and you can really use it to plan your life out. Being an entrepreneur now and running my own business, I have been able to receive income every single month but you never know when some months are going to incur some big expenses that sometimes your income for that month are not able to handle. It can be tough but during active duty we learn how to deal with tough times and how to make a lot happen with limited resources. I do stay in touch with my military friends since I still am in the Navy reserves, and there’s a lot of military friends that I’ve had that have been great for networking and great for connecting me to more people who have helped me in my different career paths that I’ve had over the last two years.
Q: Somewhere out there is a poor Ensign on a duty day who is reading this article and would love to transition into auto racing. What would you say to this hopeful?
The biggest thing with transitioning from active duty military to the auto racing industry is doing your research prior to jumping in. The biggest thing that you will learn about racing is there are two sides to it that you need to master and figure out how to get through and that is finding the funding and also getting enough experience. There are ways to make both happen but you must be willing to do whatever it takes to make both happen and sometimes some people when they hit a roadblock with one of those two they quit because they feel like there is no place to go or there are no answers to solve their problems when that is completely untrue. There are answers if you’re willing to find them, it will not be easy but it will be worthwhile.
Q: Not only are you a NASCAR racer, but you are the owner of the Red List Group, an auto racing group. How do you balance your priorities between your racing, leading your company, and your own self development?
Everyone must remember that there are 24 hours in a day, so there are typically plenty of hours each day to make things happen and balance this crazy lifestyle of mine. It is tough because you do need some breaks throughout the day and you still need to eat, sleep, and maintain a good physical fitness regimen. I really rely heavily on my notes on my phone where I map out my day hour by hour on what I should be doing and I do my best each day to try to stick to that but some days there are some sections of my life that take over that day or take over a majority of the day and maybe I can’t spend as much time on a certain section of my life.
Keys to success: Vision of you and your goal, daily action toward the goal, insane belief it will happen, faith while things don’t “appear” to be happening through your daily action, never quitting, and stay strong enough long enough.
Jesse is a big supporter of NASCAR diversity. He was recently honored by NASCAR for the second year in a row – the Diverse Driver of the Year Award. He is a champion both on and off the track! NASCAR has never seen a driver like Jesse Iwuji before. While streaking toward the top tiers of NASCAR, the unstoppable Jesse Iwuji is taking us all along for one wild and exciting ride.