Photo courtesy Jesse Iwuji

Ex-NFL star Shawne Merriman, racer Jesse Iwuji team up in NASCAR K&N effort

Leave a comment

On the football field and in business, former NFL star Shawne Merriman has had an astute eye for talent and opportunity.

So it’s not surprising that Merriman joined forces with NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver Jesse Iwuji.

A chance meeting with Iwuji at a recent fashion show in Los Angeles promoting Merriman’s “Lights Out” clothing line led Merriman to becoming Iwuji’s car owner.

“Talk about unexpected, right?” Merriman, a three-time NFL Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection, told NBC Sports.

“I didn’t realize Shawne was going to be there,” Iwuji told NBC Sports. “I had never met him before, but I thought this would be a cool opportunity to introduce myself to him, tell him what I’m doing and see if there’s any interest in him to come on board.

Shawne Merriman
Shawne Merriman

“He told me to have a meeting the next week.”

Iwuji made the 10-hour round trip to Los Angeles to meet with Merriman.

“He saw how serious I was,” Iwuji said.

His drive and passion on and off the racetrack are evident. While Iwuji’s business proposal to Merriman was unique, it was his personality that sold Merriman.

“Jesse’s focused, just talking about ‘Lights Out,’ a future with him and what he has going on,” Merriman said. “At that point, I was so intrigued by his hunger, being focused. It gets me excited when other people get excited about being part of ‘Lights Out’ and the stuff we’re doing.”

The new driver-owner pairing kicks off with Sunday’s K&N Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway.

“Jesse is growing his notoriety and who he is in NASCAR,” Merriman said. “I love to start with people from the ground up. It’s so easy to come in and get a guy who’s already established and be a part of something, that’s easy. I like to be a part of the building stages, and that’s what Jesse is right now. He’s a tremendous talent coming up in NASCAR and I’m real happy to be part of it.”

After New Smyrna, Iwuji prepares for his second full 14-race season in K&N West. As a rookie in 2016, he finished 10th in the series, with his best race result a 10th-place effort.

jesse-iwuji-from-his-web-site
Photo courtesy Jesse Iwuji Racing

It’s not hard to understand why Merriman and Iwuji bonded so quickly. They’re both former football players: Merriman was a linebacker at the University of Maryland and then eight years in the NFL; Iwuji played cornerback and ran track at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Both also have a military lineage of sorts. Iwuji is an active-duty lieutenant in the Navy and serves as an administrator at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterrey, California.

Merriman spent considerable time visiting military bases around San Diego during his five-plus years with the NFL’s Chargers.

The son of Nigerian parents who immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s, the 29-year-old Iwuji is a native of Carrollton, Texas, a Dallas suburb.

While he’s been a lifelong motorsports fan, Iwuji didn’t get into active NASCAR competition until 2014.

“I did drag racing and road course racing for four years before I decided to pursue a racing career,” he said. “NASCAR was the first door that opened for me for that and I decided to jump on board, and I’ve never looked back.”

patriot-motorsports-group-logo

This will be Iwuji’s second season with Patriot Motorsports Group, an Eagle, Idaho firm owned by John Wood. The team fields cars for as many as nine different drivers over the course of a season.

But Iwuji plans to become principal owner of the team next year. His enlistment in the Navy, which began in 2010, ends in May, when he’ll transition to the Naval Reserves. Doing so will allow him even more time to pursue his racing dreams.

“I basically don’t have a life outside of racing and the Navy,” Iwuji laughed. “My normal Navy job, I’m at work from 8 to 4 p.m., and then I spend three hours at home on my racing simulator to keep myself sharp racing, and then I spend another 4-5 hours every night working on marketing and promoting myself and my team.”

The Navy may be in Iwuji’s future as a potential sponsor, as well.

“I am currently working it, trying my best to put it all together and get the Navy on board,” Iwuji said. “NASCAR has never had an active-duty armed forces member ever compete in NASCAR and I know the Navy used to be a sponsor of a car in NASCAR.

“So why not come back in, use what I’m doing as a recruiting tool and outreach tool for the Navy and become a sponsor? That will help propel me while also helping the Navy bring in recruits and promote the Navy in a positive way.”

Some branches of the military have scaled back sponsorship of sports, particularly motorsports, due to Congressional pressure. Example: the National Guard pulled its sponsorship of Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the 2015 season.

Still, the Air Force remains an associate sponsor of Richard Petty Motorsports, and also will serve as primary sponsor of  the No. 43 Ford Fusion for two races this season.

Iwuji and Merriman also like the idea of using their combined racing and business platform to expand NASCAR’s diversity reach.

“We’re all about giving opportunities to new types of people who never would have had the opportunity to be in this sport and in NASCAR and to be able to do some of the great things that a few are able to do in this sport,” Iwuji said.

jesse-iwuji-2
Jesse Iwuji — photo courtesy Jesse Iwuji Racing

Added Merriman, “Bringing diversity into any sport is really going to open up the eyes of people who wouldn’t necessarily have any other direct involvement with it.

“Imagine a 12-year-old Shawne Merriman gets a chance to go to a NASCAR race and sees the excitement of what goes on there. Shawne Merriman could have been a NASCAR driver if he hadn’t ended up being a football player.”

Iwuji hopes to start climbing the NASCAR ladder in the next year or two.

“I know I have a long way to go since I haven’t been racing my whole life,” Iwuji said.“I’m still trying to catch up to all the guys that have been racing since they were five years old.

“But I have had some good runs, some good races and I’ve shown myself that I have the ability, I just need more seat time to hone my skills and get better and fine-tune some things so that I’ll eventually get there.

“I’m patient enough to make it happen and do see myself one day getting to where I want to be.”

Merriman, 32, is a long-time racing fan. He’s friends with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and in 2008 was grand marshal for the NASCAR Cup race at Auto Club Speedway in California. If things go the way Iwuji hopes, Merriman will be right alongside on the climb up the NASCAR ladder.

“No question about it,” Merriman said. “It’s what I call the groundwork of getting from where you are to where you want to go because there’s no easy path there. He has great knowledge about cars and what he’s doing.

“It’s like watching a football film about how to get a sack, to get to the quarterback. You line up, get to a three-point stance and then look everything on both sides of the ball. You get very detailed about your passion and what you love doing. If you talk to Jesse about the same thing, he’ll break down everything from every tire, axle to piece of machinery. He gets deep with it.”

It’s all about passion, motivation and drive – both on and off the race track, says Iwuji.

“I’m just working hard, grinding every single day,” he said. “Eventually, I’ll get to where I want to be. I just have to keep my head down and keep pushing.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Here is what upcoming NASCAR Cup races fans can attend

Leave a comment

Wednesday saw NASCAR announce the remaining regular season schedule for all three national series, including six Cup Series races.

In total, 10 Cup points races and the All-Star Race remain in the regular season, beginning with Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not all tracks are allowing fans to attend.

Here are the fan policies for the remainder of the Cup Series regular season.

Kentucky Speedway (Sunday)

Fans will not be allowed to attend.

 

All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (July 15)

Up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend the race.

 

Texas Motor Speedway (July 19)

Fans making up to 50% of the track’s capacity will be allowed to attend.

 

Kansas Speedway (July 23)

Fans will not be able to attend.

 

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Aug. 2)

Roughly 19,000 fans will be able to attend.

 

Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 8-9)

Fans will not be able to attend.

 

Daytona International Speedway (Aug. 16 and Aug. 29)

“We’re working towards having fans and hopefully we’ll have some news on when we’re going to go on sale in the next couple of days,” said track president Chip Wile Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

 

Dover International Speedway (Aug. 22 – 23)

Speedway officials remain in consultation with local, state and federal health officials, as well as Delaware Gov. John Carney, on whether fans will be allowed in the stands with appropriate social distancing for the August events.

Weekend schedule for Kentucky Speedway

Leave a comment

NASCAR heads to the Bluegrass State this week for four days of racing at Kentucky Speedway.

All three national series will be in action, plus the ARCA Menards Series, for five races. The Xfinity Series will hold two races for its second doubleheader of the season.

According to wunderground.com, the forecast for the start of each race is:

Thursday Xfinity race: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees and a 20% chance of rain.

Friday Xfinity race: Scattered thunderstorms, 80 degrees and 37% chance of rain.

Saturday Truck Series race: Partly cloudy, 86 degrees and 0% chance of rain.

Sunday Cup race: Scattered thunderstorms, 84 degrees, 40% chance of rain.

Here is the full weekend schedule for Kentucky Speedway.

(All times are Eastern)

Wednesday, July 8

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 – 7:30 p.m. – Driver motorhome parking (screening in progress)

Thursday, July 9

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening in progress)

1 – 10:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

6 – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

7:50 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

8 p.m. – Xfinity race No. 1; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Friday, July 10

10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access (screening in progress)

Noon – ARCA driver/crew chief/spotter meeting (electronic communication)

12:30 p.m. – ARCA rookie meeting (teleconference)

1 p.m. – ARCA crew chief meeting (teleconference)

4 – 5 p.m. – ARCA haulers enter (screening in progress)

5 – 5:30 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (teleconference)

5:30 p.m. – Trucks driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

6 – 7:30 p.m. – Xfinity engine prime and final adjustments (pit road)

7:50 – Xfinity drivers report to cars

8 p.m. – Xfinity race No. 2; 200 laps/300 miles (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, July 11

7 a.m. – 2 p.m. – ARCA garage access (screening in progress)

8 – 10 a.m. – Truck series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. – Truck garage access (screening in progress)

Noon – 1 p.m. – ARCA practice

2:20 p.m. – ARCA drivers report to cars

2:30 p.m. – ARCA race; 100 laps/150 miles (FS1)

4 – 5:30 p.m. – Trucks engine prime and final adjustments (garage area)

4:40 – 5:30 p.m. – ARCA haulers exit

5 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:50 p.m. – Truck drivers report to vehicles

6 p.m. – Truck race; 150 laps/225 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 – 8:30 p.m. – Cup haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

8:30 p.m. – Truck haulers exit

Sunday, July 12

7:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. – Cup garage access (screening in progress)

12:30 – 2 p.m. – Engine prime and final adjustments on pit road

2:20 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

2:30 p.m. – Quaker State 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

6:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

Thursday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky: Start time, forecast and more

Leave a comment

A stretch of five races in four days at Kentucky Speedway begins Thursday night with the first of two Xfinity Series races.

It will mark the second doubleheader of the year for the Xfinity Series.

Can Chase Briscoe keep up a winning pace that’s seen him win three times in the last four races (and five overall thus far in the season’s first 13 races)?

Here’s all the info you need for Thursday night’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be at 8:13 p.m by Shady Rays CEO Chris Ratterman. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:24 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments are at 6 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 8:05 p.m by Jason Romano. The national anthem will be performed at 8:06 p.m. by Matthew Grant.

DISTANCE: The race is 134 laps (201 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies, a high of 86 degrees and a 24% chance of rain predicted at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe defeated Justin Haley and Noah Gragson to win on the Indianapolis road course.

LAST RACE AT KENTUCKY: Cole Custer beat Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for lineup

Starting lineup for Saturday’s Truck Series race at Kentucky

Leave a comment

Brett Moffitt will start from the pole for Saturday’s NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway (6 p.m. ET on FS1) thanks to a random draw.

He will be joined on the front row by Zane Smith. In fact, the first three drivers are all from GMS Racing: Moffitt, Smith and Tyler Ankrum, who will start third.

Rounding out the top five are Christian Eckes and Austin Hill.

Click here for the starting lineup 

NASCAR Truck Series at Kentucky

Race Time: 6 p.m. ET Saturday

Track: Kentucky Speedway; Sparta, Kentucky (1.5-mile speedway)

Length: 150 laps, 225 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 35. Stage 2 ends on Lap 70.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Cup race: Sunday at Kentucky (267 laps, 400.5 miles), 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox

Next Xfinity race: Thursday at Kentucky (134 laps, 201 miles), 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Follow @JerryBonkowski