CONCORD, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - You would be hard pressed to find a sport that honors the military better than NASCAR does Memorial Dat weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Each year they honor our troops in various ways, leaving a lasting impression on veterans, their families, the drivers, and the fans.
This year, one driver has an extra special connection to the weekend. U.S. Navy Lt. Jesse Iwuji is the only member who is actually in the military racing in NASCAR.
As you could imagine, this weekend is near and dear to his heart.
"They're doing a great job pushing that and just honoring our troops and honoring those that have served and given that ultimate sacrifice, which is big to me since I'm in the military," Iwuji told FOX 46.
You might be wondering how does a lieutenant in the Navy become a NASCAR driver? Iwuji grew up in Texas where he played football as a youth. He took his talents to the U.S. Naval Academy where he continued his football career while also running track.
"College football was my big dream, and that's what I was going for. So i did that, went to the Naval Academy, played all four years and then graduated in 2010. Then I wasn’t playing football anymore so now I was an officer in the Navy and through that time is when I really developed this passion for motorsports.”
After seven years of active service, including two deployments in Bahrain and the Arabian Gulf, Iwuji transitioned to the Navy Reserve so he could pursue NASCAR full-time.
He raced late models in 2015 and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series in 2016 and 2017. This year he moved up to the ARCA Series.
“Something about being a challenging environment and doing challenging things it draws me near it, it’s tough. My goal is to make it the top series so anything I can do between now and then to get myself there, that’s what I’m doing.”
Even though racing is his new job, serving his country is still his life.
“I would never trade it for anything else, that’s why im still a part of it, it helped shape me, make me better, and just teaches me a lot of good things."