Metaphorically speaking, it’s a long way from the Naval Academy and the gridiron to Daytona; but it’s exactly how Carrollton, Texas’ Jesse Iwuji got here. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards rookie made his first laps at Daytona Int’l Speedway last weekend in preparation for the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire coming Saturday, Feb. 10.
Navy officer, Midshipman, ARCA rookie Jesse Iwuji preps for Daytona Debut
“It was an amazing experience,” said Iwuji. “I had been to the track a few times but I had never driven on it. Just my first time out there in the rookie drive-around…I had no idea how much banking the place had. I was hanging by my seatbelt.”
Iwuji, a Navy veteran and four-year safety for the Navy Midshipmen football team, was one of four drivers who tested for Patriot Motorsports, a new ARCA team set to make its debut in the ARCA season-opener at Daytona.
“The first thing that hit me were the G-forces once you get into the turn. You literally get sucked down into your seat. It was the most interesting feeling I’ve ever had in a race car…and that was just the single-car draft.”
Then he got mixed among one of those hungry packs.
“I went out with my teammate. My spotter told me there was a decent-sized pack coming my way. Then he said it was 8 cars coming. He said they were about 50 cars away…then 40, 30, 20, 10…then came, ‘hold your line.’ All of sudden, I feel the rumble and roar of all these cars. Then we split into two lines. The feeling of the air around you and all that turbulence was really eye-opening. It was literally crazy. I definitely learned a lot and I’m glad I got thrown into the mix.”
Iwuji is probably used to a bit of “turbulence” albeit in a different way. He was on active duty in the Navy from 2010 through 2017 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. Before that he attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and graduated in 2010. Iwuji was also on the Midshipmen football team all four years and ran track while he attended school. Now he’s in the Navy Reserves based out of Ventura, Calif.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, Iwuji is a goal-oriented guy and has now set his sights on making a go of it in professional stock car racing. A veteran of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, the native Texan is set to take on Daytona in his first “big track” start.
“My goal this year is to run as many big tracks as possible.”
Iwuji is also planning to run part-time schedules on the K&N side, but he also says his main focus will be the ARCA Racing Series.
“I can’t do the second Pocono race or Gateway but all the other speedways I’ll be doing…Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, the first Pocono, Michigan, Chicagoland and Kansas. I’m going to be running a mix of West and East races but ARCA will be my priority…the speedways and the mile-and-a-halves…I want to get that kind of experience to move up the ranks.”
Getting back to his goal-oriented mindset.
“My goal is to make it to the Cup Series while still being in the Navy. It hasn’t been done before…a naval officer racing in Cup.”
It hasn’t been done yet on the ARCA side either; but that all changes when the 55th running of the Lucas Oil 200 Driven by General Tire comes to life at Daytona Feb. 10. The race is Live on FS1.
More on Patriot Motorsports’ ARCA debut…
Iwuji, one of four drivers who tested for Patriot Motorsports at Daytona, was fastest among his teammates with a lap of 50.215 (179.229 mph). The team is owned by John Wood who has partnered with driver Jesse Iwuji and retired NFL linebacker Shawne Merriman.
Jonas Fors, of Ingaro, Sweden, also tested with Patriot. The Swedish native is 24 years old and has had previous experience in V8 Thunder Cars and is looking to move that experience over to stock car racing.
Jerry de Weerdt, of Aartselaar, Belgium, was another who tested with the new ARCA team. The Belgium driver is 48 years old and has earned the Legend Trophy in the ELITE 1 Series which is given to dedicated drivers over 40.
Meridian, Idaho driver Rob Powers also tested with Patriot Motorsports at Daytona.