Over the weekend, it was announced that NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and Jesse Iwuji will partner to form Jesse Iwuji Motorsports for the 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
By forming Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, Smith and Iwuji say they intend to be more than just a race team, but also want to serve as a symbol of hope for those with less opportunity. With a focus on racial equality and improved inclusion in the sport, Iwuji and Smith will use esports and STEM-style initiatives to connect with lower-income communities to empower individuals to believe anything is possible.
Iwuji’s relationship with Smith originally blossomed with his agent, who has known Smith for roughly 20 years. One of Smith’s companies, Notable Live, sponsored Iwuji’s No. 99 car owned by B.J. McLeod in the Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway last October. Smith was also on hand to unveil the paint scheme for the race. Iwuji was able to use that opportunity to persuade Smith to consider co-ownership with him.
“We started throwing it at (Smith), like hey, you should be a part of this thing that we’re going to start, it’s going to be big,” Iwuji said. “He was excited. He was like, you know what, yeah, I want to be part of that. Next thing you know, he’s putting different ideas together and figuring out a way to have it a little bit different than other people do.”
Now in the U.S. Navy Reserves, Iwuji was active duty in the Navy from 2010-’17. Since 2015, Iwuji has competed in five Xfinity Series races, including one start this season at Pocono Raceway for car owner Mike Harmon. The 34-year-old driver also has 14 Camping World Truck Series starts over four years, which includes three starts in 2021 with car owner Josh Reaume.
Shifting from the military to NASCAR national series racing isn’t exactly conventional, but Iwuji was willing to put in the hard work to make it happen. That’s what caught Smith’s attention.
“(Smith) saw me basically going from driving warships in 2014 to driving race cars in 2015,” Iwuji said. “He saw that grind and he knew; you know what, I want to associate myself with a grinder. Anybody can have all the ideas in the world, have everything written down on lists, but at the end of the day, it takes a special person to be a true grinder. Someone that makes things happen and he saw that in me. He knew no matter what, I was going to get this thing going in the right direction.”
When Smith first interacted with Iwuji at Texas, he was sold on supporting him.
“That’s how I got a chance to meet Jesse, understand what his mission was, understand what his plans were and to try be involved in every which way I possibly could to enhance it,” Smith told NBCSN. “Not only that, but to bring more attention and create those opportunities that Jesse talked about. Creating a legacy and a pipeline of people who don’t know the pathway to get there. Our mission is two-to-threefold if you will. We obviously want to win, but we also want to create opportunities for others.”
No formal announcement regarding manufacturer, car number, team alliance, sponsors and crew chief has been released, but Iwuji intends to run a full-time schedule and compete for Rookie of the Year honors.
But Iwuji did leave a cliffhanger regarding the number selection. Honoring Smith with the No. 22 on the side of the car is a thought if they are able to snag it from Team Penske’s current Xfinity Series effort.