#29 – Jesse Iwuji: Prepare for the fight you don’t even know is coming. We are joined by NASCAR driver Jesse Iwuji on this week’s episode. Jesse shares some incredible insight into risk-taking, how to learn, how to persist, and how to pursue your goals and dreams.


Aaron Spatz  00:05

I’m Aaron Spatz, and this is the Veterans Business Podcast. A podcast centered around the stories of US military veterans, and their adventures in the business world following their time in service. Its stories of challenges and obstacles, and an inside look at how veterans find their life’s work, their purpose, and their post military lives. Welcome to the Veterans Business Podcast. I’m so excited that you’re joining us this week, I am super thrilled and pumped to introduce to you our special guests. Jesse a Wuji. Jesse is a man who needs no introduction, but I’m gonna give it to you anyway, in case you have been living under a rock. Jesse is a graduate of the US Naval Academy he played football ultimately earned his commission as a naval officer. Once he commissioned he spent 10 years on active duty as a Surface Warfare guy before transitioning to the reserves in 2017. During that time, Jesse got the sport of racing made his debut in 2015. It was raised in a variety of different series, most notable of which is the imminent start XFINITY series do debut at Road America, where he’ll be driving. It’s the number 13 mile marker 10 car, which is really exciting. In addition, Jesse is also a sports analyst at NBC Sports and is also the owner of his own firm, the Red List group, which also owns JB J. E. Transportation. Jesse, first of all, congrats on all that you’ve achieved so far. I know you got a long ways to go still and that you’re not done. But congrats, and thank you so much for joining the show.

Jesse Iwuji  01:33

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Thanks for the intro.

Aaron Spatz  01:36

Yeah, man. Absolutely. So it’s, it’s always it’s always a thrill, love, love to see fellow veterans crush, I guess you’re technically not a veteran, since you’re still on the payroll. Right, but

Jesse Iwuji  01:49


Aaron Spatz  01:51

But, uh, but no, I mean, my goal here really just, you know, love to uncover and discuss items that people may not know about you. There’s, you’re you’re all over the news. And people can consume a lot of information about you. So I’m going to purposely try to take a hard turn and spend a little bit of time just talking about some other topics related to business. But for those that don’t know a whole lot about you, I feel like we at least owe them a quick 30,000 foot view of who you are. So like, Would you mind just sharing with us quickly, just about your journey into the military and also into racing?

Jesse Iwuji  02:24

Yeah, so my journey in the military, you know, going into race and stuff like that. So you know, Originally, I’m from Dallas, Texas, both my parents came from Nigeria, to Texas in the 80s, to have me and my two brothers and my sister, we grew up there. Everyone knows football in Texas is huge. So I originally in life had this big goal to go off to college and play college football. So I worked very hard throughout middle school, high school and everything, to put myself in a position where I could get recruited by some good schools. And by my senior year, I was, you know, doing well, in football, the Naval Academy came knocking on my door, and they were wanting to recruit me to play football there. And I looked at the opportunity as a great one, to go off to a really good school, get a great education, and then, you know, be able to play for a football team knows winning games, and also want to graduate become an officer in the Navy. So I took that opportunity. I went off to the Naval Academy played there for years, graduated in 2010, became a Surface Warfare Officer. So for those who don’t know, service worker, officers were the guys on the ships, operating ships day in day, day, night or day in and day out. And we’re on two different deployments on my first four years in the Navy, active duty. And both of those deployments were sort of Arabian Gulf. It’s been about 15 Total months between both of those deployments. And in between the deployments and going out to sea and stuff. While I was back at home in San Diego at that time, I was really developing this passion towards cars and racing. And, you know, I would take my personal cars to different road course tracks and drag shirts and all that stuff. I was having fun doing that. And one day, I was sitting in my room in 2014, January, two in my room one night and just made this crazy goal that I was going to go after professional racing, and I wrote it on my whiteboard. I just wrote that I was gonna become professional racecar driver. And that’s literally where the vision went from, you know, yeah, in my mind to paper, and for you know, for that, you know, bored. So that’s where the journey began. And then from there, it was a grind to figure out how do I get in? And how do I find the money to do it? How do I find teams? The training, I learn how to drive a racecar how to get in the races, how to work Malia all the different racing series, like how do I do a lot. So I did a ton of research, a lot of networking, and I was just I just taught myself everything I need to know to move up the ranks. And over the last five years, we’ve been able to do that. And now I’m working on basically running my first NASCAR XFINITY series race at Road America. So looking forward to that I’m now at the second highest level of NASCAR and got one more step to go now so great, and we do a lot with it.

Aaron Spatz  04:52

Man, that’s awesome. It’s a it’s a great it’s a great story from literally whiteboard to realizing that in in such short order, but I mean, no doubt grind, for sure. And, and once again, congrats making it to xfinity. They change the names of the series like every three years. And so I mean, like, I like I remember the series names from like, three generations ago and it’s like, series. Yeah, yeah. Busch Winston Cup. You know, but it’s not even sprint cup anymore. I think it’s a monster, right?

Jesse Iwuji  05:27

Monster Energy Analysis, the NASCAR cup series.

Aaron Spatz  05:31

Okay. That makes it a lot easier. Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, so take it all adds a lot of side, take us through the formation of red list and JBJ transportation, like, how did you get your start there would tell us a little bit about the the story behind that, like, what was all that about?

Jesse Iwuji  05:50

On the business side of things, you know, back in 2015, when I was getting the racing, you really had to figure out a way to find the funding to do it. And as I was looking for sponsorship, as I was networking with people and trying to find different ways to get funding, I quickly realized that it’s hard, you know, it’s difficult. So what I did was I wanted to figure out a way where I can always have funding no matter what, whether it has watched it or not. So I decided to start my own business on the side, and I did it where I knew best No, I’m in the car world, I know cars, a new car, people, you know, people would like to take the personal cars to tracks for open track days. So I started putting my own track day events on where I was putting on drag racing events at different directions in Southern California, Phoenix, Arizona, now Dallas, Texas, and the events have gone well over the last five years, they’ve grown and grown and grown. And through a lot of social media marketing. And everything we do with that, we’ve been able to attract a lot of people to come to events. And usually each event we’re having anywhere between 100 to 130, cars racing, we usually have anywhere between 1500 to 6000 people in attendance, watching the events. So they’ve been going really well and been profitable, profitable. Pretty much all the events in, you know, been having fun doing that. And then on the JPJ side, we decided me and my brothers became a business where we’re going to get semi trucks and have them running on the road. And right now we own we own a semi truck, we have some other owner operators running their authority. And we are hauling goods all across the West Coast right now. So that’s been pretty good as in growing the lie in your business this year is definitely a boon. Because during quarantine time, everyone was stuck at home, all over the place. So you need to send my trucks out there on the road moving that stuff. So business definitely moving a lot in the spring, which was great.

Aaron Spatz  07:42

And that’s awesome. And I love I don’t know if it’s the foresight or just you realizing just how expensive racing is and how difficult is to get sponsors. And so I think, I think it’s genius of you to like, well, you know what, screw it, I’m gonna I will fund as much of this as I need to on my own and not be beholden to sponsorship terms. And so I obviously the sponsors have come in there and they’re there and no doubt you got some great sponsors, but But it’s great being able to have that as a net and something to link the lien on. Right. And so and no doubt with with the, with the quarantine time by giving you a chance to really double down and work work more inside of the on the business as as we navigate this whole crazy season we’re in right?

Jesse Iwuji  08:29

Yeah, that’s definitely true. For sure. Yeah.

Aaron Spatz  08:33

What, what? Like, what business challenges have you had with with just getting those things off the ground? So like, there’s a lot of folks who they, they want to get into business or they have an idea, right? They they’ve drawn on on the whiteboard, and maybe they are either in the early days of their own grind? Or they are still in the idea phase. But take us through like how did like what obstacles and challenges did you have to face just in those early days, just just just to get it going and off the ground and make in making a few bucks.

Jesse Iwuji  09:07

Yeah, so getting it off the ground and going. And that’s the toughest part, right? There’s taking that stuff. And we all have ideas, everyone will have some idea of what could be the next greatest thing. But most of that stuff goes to the grave of people. It just stays right here. And the reason why is because everyone falls into this whole trap of a call, they call it analysis paralysis, where basically all you’re doing all the analysis and you’re thinking about it all the time. And some people go even further, or maybe they start writing stuff down, do all that and then they start looking at the numbers and then looking at this looking at that researching this research and that was good. You got to gain all that information, that’s good. But then don’t get comfortable in that research phase. It’s real easy to get comfortable in the research phase and feel like you’re doing something all the time. The next you know you have two three years of just researching and that’s it. Never actually do anything. Don’t do that. That’s analysis paralysis is where you get paralyzed in the analysis phase. Gotta get past that at the end of the day, you do have to be research to get going, you got to know what you’re getting yourself into, do your numbers, wonder numbers know what’s going to take, once you have that core information, you’re not going to have all of it, you’re going to have some have enough. Basically, think of it like this, imagine jumping out of a plane, just make sure you have enough stuff in the bag to form a parachute. As long as there’s no stuff, you’re fine, just jump because you need to jump, what happens is we’ll sit in the plane forever, counting every little thing, making sure every little thing is just right. And then there might be one thing that’s not just right, next, you know, we’re trying to get that right there just toss of things and just trying to fix little things and get things right just for the perfect time to jump out of the plane, there’s never going to be a perfect time to jump out of a, you know, a great plane, because it’s comfortable up there. It’s comfortable flying, knowing that you’re safe, but it’s not comfortable falling through the air all the way down to Ground Zero. So make sure you know, once you do have everything in there, no matter what it looks like, what conditions is, just make sure you haven’t make sure you know how to how to get your parachute ready, jump and then figure it out on your way down. Because then you’re now you got a timeline, and you got to figure it out before you get to, you know, 10,000 feet or something like that. Because after that, or whatever it is, you’re gonna you’re gonna hit the ground pretty hard. But you need to wait, wait, wait, people, as I tell people that that’s the toughest part is is is getting over that hump of the analysis, paralysis phase, just jump out of the plane, just make sure you have all your parachute stuff in a bag. It got to be packed. Just have it you’ll figure it out on the way down.

Aaron Spatz  11:29

Right, man? That’s that? Yeah, that’s I mean, that’s great. That’s great wisdom. And, and it helps. I mean, it helps to put a little bit of pressure on yourself. And so it’s nothing like meeting a deadline after you’ve self imposed a deadline.

Jesse Iwuji  11:46

And then, you know, the biggest thing too is, you know, just because a lot of people want to know, like, what are the exact steps like any, you know, don’t go form an LLC do this and that, like, oh, yeah, there’s all these little things. But none of that stuff matters. If you don’t get your mindset, right. That’s why I said the analysis browser, browser is part like, Hey, you got to get your mindset in the right place, or no business is going to work it automatic, if you take, if you look at you know, go on YouTube and find the 10 steps to have a successful business. None of that stuff matters. Unless you get your mind in the right place, get comfortable with the uncomfortable when you get there and you’re willing to put everything on the line, you’re willing to lose it all. And you know how to get it all back. When you get into that type of phase. When you get into that type of mindset, you become very dangerous, and nothing can stop you. So I tell people get yourself once you’re there, like you can do whatever you want to

Aaron Spatz  12:42

go. That’s awesome. And I was gonna go back to because I think I think there’s another aspect of this that, that people should take note of is you went into an industry and into a business that you already knew, or or maybe you didn’t know, but it was complementary to what you’re doing. Right. So it’s not like you went and started like a biotech firm or a software company, it you did something where it’s still related to what you’re doing. So, I mean, I can only imagine there’s probably a lot of synergies there in terms of just learning, but then also the same, a lot of the same network that there’s gonna be, there’s gonna be there’s gonna be some good overlap there. And so maybe playing to your strengths. I think that’s probably I think that’s probably been a good like, I just looking at it from the outside looking in. I just, I think that’s a great move.

Jesse Iwuji  13:30

Yeah, yeah, definitely playing to your strengths definitely helps a lot. Because places where you know, you know, people, you have a network, I think the day this world goes round, because of networking and networks, you don’t have a network somewhere, and you’re trying to get into the industry is gonna be very difficult to make things happen. You got to form a network. Already, someone had a little bit of networking in different places that I got into when it came to drag racing events. You know, I was already known, known in the car to me, it’s so easy for me to reach out to my first few people that I knew and buy tickets to come to the event. And I could at least get some tickets sold. And I knew they could get you know, the tracking side of it. I knew a guy who was a truck driver and I knew a couple other people who were in the trucking industry that was my equipment isn’t then I used YouTube University, learning everything I could on YouTube through other people’s experiences. I look for the stuff online that was kind of dry, but it’s informational. Because it’s hard sometimes to get online, especially YouTube and like you’ll find a lot people who like make everything look super pretty and jazzy. I don’t like those videos. I want the videos that are dry and boring when those people are gonna be real facts, real information. So forming a network and having that never before you get into something that’s huge.

Aaron Spatz  14:42

Absolutely. I mean it with especially with like, when when you’re talking about doing the drag racing and being able sell tickets. I’m like, Dude, that’s perfect. Because like you’ve you’ve already got you’ve already got a network. You’ve already got a name established. You’ve already got something going there. So it’s a it’s an incremental ask. It’s still within the same sphere. And so I mean, I think it’s a great play. And, and I and I, I realized we’re starting to wind down on time. So, before we go, I wanted to ask you, like, what are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned? So like in the early start of the companies? Like, what were some of the big mistakes that that you made or lessons learned that you that you would have wished that you’d known? And how did you overcome those? And how did you keep keep pressing on?

Jesse Iwuji  15:31

I would say, um, biggest lessons learned throughout the throughout this whole time. And luckily, I was learning along as I was going, I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t say I’ve made some like catastrophic mistakes or anything like that everything so far has kind of flowed pretty well, I mean, definitely had good ups, but definitely had a lot of downs. But I would say, the one thing that I’m happy that I was doing along the way, which kept me from turning bad things into catastrophic things was I was always preparing for the fight, I didn’t even know what’s coming. So that’s the biggest thing. I tell entrepreneurs, people who are starting their own businesses, or whatever you’re doing in life, always prepare for the fight, you don’t even know what’s coming. But when I say that, you know, what I mean is you know, there’s all different kinds of things that will come in your way. Like, as you’re moving forward, as you’re trying to, you know, innovate as you’re trying to do different things, like bad things will happen, bad things will come towards you. And the only way to keep them from being going from bad to worse, or going from worst to catastrophic, is you always have to prepare for the fight you don’t know is coming. That fight that you don’t know is next year, it could happen tomorrow, it can happen next month, it can happen an hour from now, all that stuff can happen whenever but as long as you’re preparing for it, you’ll be fine. You’ve got to be creative and innovative every single day. As long as you’re trying to find creative past, trying to find better people to surround yourself with trying to read, learn everything you can do to better yourself and better your business every single day, you will continue to basically be preparing for the fight, you don’t know what’s coming. And that’s what I do to keep myself from making having bad mistakes go from bad to worse and worse to catastrophic, why people have catastrophic failures, because they just rest on their laurels, they just get comfortable. And they’re just on cruise control. And that said they’re not doing anything else new, continue to innovate. And then when that fight comes, that they didn’t even realize coming, all of a sudden they get destroyed. Well, as long as you were being creative, and you’re finding new things, when that fight comes that allows you just to finesse around it and move around it and continue to go because you already were working on something else that allows you to continue to move forward. If you weren’t ever, you know, searching for for for that new thing and trying to be innovative and creative, that you were never preparing for the fight that you don’t even know it’s coming. So always prepare, continue to be innovative, continue to be creative, every single day network network network, never give up on that do not rest do not be comfortable. I don’t care how much money you’re making. Blockbuster thought they were the biggest thing ever. They got comfortable. And guess what they were not prepared for the fight. They didn’t even know what’s coming. And that was Netflix.

Aaron Spatz  18:16

That’s so true. And that’s sage advice. Prepare for the for the fight that you don’t know is coming. I think it’s crucial between education and network. I mean, everything you laid out. I I love that. Because what that what that emphasizes it emphasizes action emphasizes if you’re taking just even if it’s small steps every day, you’re still moving forward. You’re not just you’re not just hanging out. So thank you. Thank you so much for that. Well, and I think I think I think we’re probably right at the end of our time. But man, I just want to wish you nothing but the very best this weekend. And now you got I know you got another race that you’re going to but then of course your big XFINITY debut you’re making, you’re making all the Navy, all of Navy world proud but you’re also making us as military veterans and just to build community. Super proud. Excited to see all the things that you’re doing and thank you so much for spending time with me today. I really treasured that thank you

Jesse Iwuji  19:17

so much for having me. It’s fun.

Aaron Spatz  19:20

And what a great interview I really enjoyed getting to speak to Jesse it’s awesome just to see his rise through NASCAR but I mean obviously it comes it comes at a cost and the cost has been pure hustle some grit and some really solid determination to get to where he to where he is so I I’m cheering for him I wish him nothing but the very best and and I hope to continue to see in crush it. There’s a lot of really good notes from the episode just a couple quick items that he talked about, you know, prepare for the fight that you don’t even know is coming, I think is really crucial and like him and I had discussed in the episode when it really comes down to being active being proactive. Is a great blockbuster Netflix little visual there so anyway I hope you enjoyed I hope you enjoyed the episode I think it was a lot of fun and I’m just so grateful for your listenership and for your viewership and I look forward to bringing another episode to you again next week take care

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