This is an inspirational episode. Jesse is a case study in pursuing one’s dream - figuring out what unique aspirations you have, finding others to hold you accountable, and not letting the opinions or doubts of others get in your way. Jesse talks about how he used a kickstarter campaign, credit cards, and his personal savings to inch his way closer - one race at a time - to becoming a NASCAR driver. We talk about advocating for yourself, how to run a crowdfunding campaign, and how to train day in and day out to make your dreams come true. The topics we cover in this episode are relevant to every single career path - whether you too want to become a NASCAR driver, or want to start your own business, or write a book, or whatever your personal goals may be. If you like this episode check out our show notes at BeyondTheUniform.io, where, in addition to the resources we discuss in this episode, I also list 3 other episodes very similar to this one.
Jesse Iwuji is the first active duty US Naval Officer to compete in NASCAR. He is also the Founder of The Red List Group which is an auto racing event company bringing drag racers together from the West to compete for trophies and cash prizes at track events. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served as a Surface Warfare Officer for 7 years before transitioning to the Navy Reserves.
This episode is sponsored by Secure Components - a certified small business supporting the warfighter since 2008. Secure Components delivers innovative and cost-effective solutions for high reliability supply chain challenges; arising from diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages, across a wide range of DOD legacy systems and platforms. Secure Components’ commitment to a transparent supply chain, counterfeit avoidance, and strategic sourcing; translates to increased readiness, reliability, and efficiency for the warfighter. Please visit their website at Securecomponents.com or call us at 484-881-3125
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
JBJE Transportation - 18 wheelers hauling general freight
G27 simulator - steering wheel with pedals and a shifter, can hook up to a desk if you’re in cramped quarters. Gaming laptop that can handle iRacing software used for the simulator.
Les Brown - someone’s opinion of you does not need to become your reality
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Los Angeles, California is Jesse Iwuji. Jesse Iwuji is the first active duty US Naval Officer to compete in NASCAR. He is also the Founder of The Red List Group which is an auto racing event company bringing drag racers together from the West to compete for trophies and cash prizes at track events. He started out at the Naval Academy, after which he served as a Surface Warfare Officer for 7 years before transitioning to the Navy Reserves.
How did you first become interested in car racing?
It’s been an interesting journey so far. I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. I played football in high school and it was my dream to continue playing football in college. I had the opportunity to go the Naval Academy and play football there. After graduation, I become a Surface Warfare Officer. I was on two ships and was deployed twice. During that time, my passion for motorsports started growing because I no longer had football in my life. I had a Dodge Challenger and a Corvette that I used to drag race for fun. After doing that for about four years and after my second deployment, I decided that I wanted to race professionally. That’s how my journey into NASCAR began.
Once you knew that car racing was what you wanted to do, how did you start preparing for that?
It wasn’t easy at all. While I was on my second deployment, if I had any free moments, some of the other guys and I would talk about what we wanted to do in the future and how we would make that happen. For me, since I didn’t have a ton of money, I decided to start with a simulator. So every night after work, I would do about 200 laps in a simulator. There were also some preparatory tests that I took.
After doing the test and the simulations, I was finally ready to jump into my first late model stock car which is the lowest level of NASCAR. The team told me that it was going to cost $5,000 to do a race and that I would have to pay for any damage to the car. So then I did that and then for my next race I went through a crowdfunding campaign to pay for it. My third race, I just used a credit card to pay for it. After that I had no money but after a lot of networking I was able to find a sponsor.
How did that group from the ship support you on your journey?
Of our group, two of us were really going after a specific idea. So the two of us held each other accountable by talking about once a week. His business is completely different from what I’m doing but we still talk and share our energy. This ends up sparking more ideas for both of us. His company is worth $10-15 million after beginning in 2016.
There will be people that want to poke holes in your dream. Some people are just negative people and other people just can’t see it. I think every person has a vision of what life can be. My vision is to be a NASCAR driver but that’s not your vision. We all have to recognize that everyone has a unique vision and as long as you believe in your vision, you can achieve it.
When you go after your dream, you have to invest in yourself first before other people will be willing to invest in you. You have to find a way to make it happen, whatever it is that you’re going after in life.
Do you have any advice for veterans on how to sell themselves?
Throughout this process, I’ve basically had to be my own agent. The crowdfunding campaign worked very well for me. It allowed me to accomplish what I needed to but at the same time, at the end of it, I felt like I never wanted to do that again because I really had to put myself out there and I felt like I was begging people for money.
To market yourself, you have to know what makes you and your story different and special. You have to know why people should invest in you. You have to be your biggest cheerleader. You don’t have to brag but as a veteran, you have very unique experiences that you can talk about. You can’t be scared to do that, you have to market yourself. If you can’t do that, you won’t go anywhere in life.
What does your day-to-day life look like?
When I got off active duty, I went into the Reserves. That first year I was also working a full time job. I was working as a Sales Director at Magnuson Superchargers. I just recently left that job to start my own business venture. I also started The Red List Group which is a drag racing company. We put on racing events and usually get about 1,000-3,000 people in attendance. We do about four events. I use the profits from the company to support my car racing.
And now I’m starting a trucking company called JBJE Transportation. I’ve gotten into the industry because I’ve seen the opportunity for success in this sector. I have no family or background in the trucking industry but like most military veterans, I’m driven to find success. I still also do my simulation laps every day. I usually wake up between 5-6 am and go to be around 11. I’m busy from early morning to late at night.
What does a race day look like for you?
In the week leading up to the race I make sure I’m super hydrated. I drink coconut water in the days leading up the race and then PediaLyte on race day. I’m on the simulator that week practicing on the track that I’ll be racing at. There are usually media interviews as well. Race day is crazy. There’s usually a qualifying round during the morning and then the race is that night.
How do you feel at the start of those races?
It’s similar to when I was playing football or track and field in college. The feeling that you get before a game or race. You’re nervous and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
What will it take for you to advance to the NASCAR Cup Series?
I was driving the Pro Series quite a bit this year and just moved up to the Camping World Truck Series. The next step up would be the Xfinity Series and then the Cup Series. To move up, the big things are experience and funding.
How do you get funding and sponsorships?
It’s a mix of you going out and finding the opportunities. And then depending on how you perform in races, other companies will come to you.
Do you have advice for someone that wants to get into NASCAR?
It depends on what you want to do in the business. On the racing side, you want to do a lot of practice on the simulator first and then move to the track and start racing at the lowest levels and work your way up. If you’re not interested in racing but want to work more on the business side, I would advise the same thing. Just start working for a small company first and start gaining experience and working your way up. NASCAR has tons of positions out there available. There are a lot of different ways to work for NASCAR.
What simulators would you recommend?
A G27 is one good option. You’ll need a gaming laptop that can handle iRacing software.
Can you talk about your involvement with the Phoenix Patriot Foundation and Patriot Sport Motor Group?
I started racing with the Patriot Sport Motor Group and just recently left them because I had moved up to the Camping World Truck Series. I was with them for a while and did a lot of great things.
Phoenix Patriot Foundation is a very military centric foundation that was part of some of our races with Patriot Sport Motor Group. We honored different veterans by having their names on some of the race cars.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Whatever your goal is in life, there are important and simple concepts you need to apply.
One is that the opinions of others really don’t matter. You do not have to let someone’s opinion of you become your reality.
The other is that no matter what you go after in life, you will have both failures and successes. But no matter what happens, you can’t ever quit. I like the quote that “even in the darkest point of the night, the sun will still rise.” That breaking point where you feel reading to quit is a moment where you just need to take a break and then keep going.