NASCAR: Jesse Iwuji Opened Up About How Parents Inspired Success

by Matthew Memrick
(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

NASCAR driver and Navy Reserve officer Jesse Iwuji opened up about how his parents fueled his success in becoming a race team owner.

Iwuji, who drives for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports and co-owns his team with NFL legend Emmitt Smith, said his Nigerian parents helped him learn discipline early. They taught him the necessary skills for him to serve in the US Navy for seven years, play college football and become a motorsports owner.

This weekend, Lieutenant Commander Iwuji will race in the number 34 Chevrolet at Atlanta Motor Speedway

He recently talked about his parents to ESPN. Iwuji joins Bubba Wallace as the only current African-American drivers in NASCAR’s top two racing series.

NASCAR Driver Iwuji Opened Up About How Parents Inspiration

Iwuji, now a Navy Reservist, told the network that he remembered a seventh-grade incident with his parents. After getting a C on his report card, he thought “it was the end of the world.”

He said he quickly understood he needed to bring his grades up and that he was “smarter than that.”

While the driver admitted his parents did not get a good education, they knew the power of education. Iwuji said he didn’t understand their ways at the time, but now he does. He said that Nigerian parents have high expectations of their children becoming essential members of society like doctors, lawyers, and engineers.

“I felt our parents were just really hard on us, but I’m happy they were like that,” Iwuji said.

That tough love has served the NASCAR driver/owner well. With Wallace, he hopes many will see his hard work pay off on and off the track.

NASCAR Shedding It’s Troubled Past

The sport has taken significant steps over the past few years to get past its racism. With Wallace and others working to ban the Confederate flag from races, Iwuji wants to shoulder some of Wallace’s burden.

Iwuji said he knows that racism happened in the past, “but some things are still happening now more than they should be.”

“So, we should highlight that and just keep it in the forefront so that it doesn’t happen again, ” Iwuji told ESPN. “That’s why we have to [keep speaking up].”

The driver/owner also wants to keep climbing in the pro racing series. He drove in the Camping World Truck Series for four years, hoping to show others that Black drivers can find success, own teams, and compete.

Iwuji said people wanted to know why he didn’t race when he was younger. His response to ESPN: “Well, I didn’t see Black people. If I didn’t see anyone in there, I couldn’t envision myself in there. I saw people like me in football, so I played football.”

But he had racing ambitions. Now, he’s making his fourth start in the Xfinity Series season. He’s averaged 32nd finishes in three races. Last weekend, he had to pull out of the Phoenix race because of a last-minute Navy training obligation. But he’s still racing to win while serving as a positive example for other minority drivers and future owners.