Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith has bought into Jesse Iwuji Motorsports. The team will be competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Iwuji steering the No. 34 Chevrolet. Smith joins Michael Jordan, Floyd Mayweather, Brad Daugherty, and Pitbull as minority owners in the sport. Something Smith sees as a good thing that can lead to real change.
“I think there’s tremendous opportunity here,” Smith said. “NASCAR has actually opened the door for minorities to come in and actually own their teams. Ownership is really the key to any type of change you really want to create. If you don’t own it, you can’t really change it. It’s not a bottom-up approach, it’s really a top-down approach.”
Smith makes a fair point. J.R. Smith talked about something similar on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast. There is power in ownership. If you want to make a sport a vehicle for real change, it starts at the top with ownership.
NASCAR has a poor racial history with respect to Black drivers and the attitudes of its fans. The Confederate flag was a staple at races since its inception.
Smith and Iwuji initially wanted to grab the No. 22 car number for the team — Smith’s iconic number used in his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys. But ultimately they chose the No. 34 – the same number that Black driver Wendell Scott, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, used when he competed in the sport’s top series from 1961 through 1973.
Iwuji, a former defensive back at Navy, started his racing career after completing his full-time military obligations. He still serves as an officer in the Navy Reserve.
He is from the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Texas, and has five NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, with a best finish of 23rd at Texas Motor Speedway in 2020. His best finish in 15 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts is 17th, also at his hometown Texas track in 2019.
He qualified 30th for his NASCAR Xfinity Series Daytona International Speedway debut in Saturday’s Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. 300.
Iwuji’s path to NASCAR hasn’t been easy. He was self-funded until the buy-in from Smith and struggled securing sponsors.
“It’s super easy to quit,” Iwuji said. “I’ve never been a quitter. God put a vision in my head of me being a race car driver. So if he puts it in my head, that means it’s meant to be, and if it’s meant to be, why would I go against it? If you have a vision and you clearly see yourself becoming whatever is supposed to become, then it is your duty to go after that. No matter what happens, no matter what you lose, no matter what happens to you, no matter how far down the hole you go, you must go after it, because there is something in the end, like the light is at the end of the tunnel.”
Partnering with Smith will infuse the winning athlete spirit into the 34 team. Smith will have to learn NASCAR, but his competitive spirit as an athlete will drive him.
“It takes patience. And we have to be patient. You know I didn’t start my very first game at the University of Florida until Week 3,” Smith said. “Even though I wanted to play in Week 1 and Week 2. We have to be patient with the process and trusting the process will yield results.”
More news from our partners: