Race Weekend Central

For Jesse Iwuji, Kyle Weatherman Is the Future of Jesse Iwuji Motorsports

Kyle Weatherman‘s NASCAR journey hasn’t been the straight shot to the top like we see with many other young up-and-coming drivers. Rather, it has been one of filling in warm seats and securing the occasional ride with teams ranging from those in the back to mid-pack.

Beforehand, the young Missouri native enjoyed a promising ARCA Menards Series career, where he earned 25 top-five results in 50 starts, including a win at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2015.

Alas, in his NASCAR escapades his ventures have not been as fruitful. When he started 2022, Weatherman had only one top 10 in his entire NASCAR career spanning a total of 73 races, coming at Kentucky Speedway with Mike Harmon Racing in 2020.  At the time, he looked toward a promising handful of races with DGM Racing, a team that will make appearances in the front of the field once in a blue moon. 

Yet even after earning his second-career top-10 finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March with his new team, his future remained mostly uncertain. 

That is, until he was contacted by Jesse Iwuji, driver and owner of Jesse Iwuji Motorsports, who was in need of a racer with experience to improve his new team after failing to qualify for multiple races.

With the rookie team, Weatherman went on to earn another top 10 and an average finish of 21.6 — the best of his career — while also elevating the team to 29th in team owner points.

Frontstretch caught up with both Weatherman and Iwuji and Talladega Superspeedway earlier this fall to talk about the 25-year-old’s successful contributions to the new race team. 

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Dalton Hopkins, Frontstretch: Jesse told me about how much he really enjoys having you on the team and how much you really seemed to fit in. What does that mean to have your boss say that about you?

Kyle Weatherman: It’s awesome to have someone believe in me, to give me this opportunity to run this car and be a part of this team. It’s been a good fit from top to bottom. It really has. With the guys in the shop, to Jesse … all these people have just been incredible to work with. It’s been a fun group to work with. I think we’re having fun. That’s the most important thing, and we’re all learning and getting better each and every week. This is still a first-year team, right? So, for what they’ve done from the beginning to where we’re at now is absolutely incredible, and the future and the goals and aspirations of what they have moving forward is huge, and I’m excited to be a part of it, hopefully.

Hopkins: A lot of drivers talk about where they first found that want to go racing. How did you first get that racing bug? Something about a go-kart shop?

Weatherman: Yeah. I started when I was 8 years old, and we just initially were going to look at a go-kart. Just a look, right? Honestly. And then that day we left with two go-karts for myself and my brother, so it started off as just a hobby to kind of do on the weekends with my brother and dad. Just something kind of fun to do on the weekends. Then I realized that this is something that we could really turn into a profession, and I’d say by 10, 11, 12 years old was when the light switch changed, and I kind of went from having fun with it — still am — but to really just putting dedication from when I get up in the morning till when I go to sleep at night.

Hopkins: Jesse, on your side of things, it was a little bit different, and it happened a little bit later, it seems.

Jesse Iwuji: Yeah, most drivers like [Weatherman], they start when they’re younger — 5, 6, 7, 8 years old. For me, I didn’t hop into a racecar for the first time until I was 26, 27 years old, so it was way behind the curve, and with that comes its challenges. Obviously, I’m 20 years behind some experience knowing these rac cars, all that stuff. So since then, I’ve been climbing to just try to figure that out, and just to even have the opportunity to even step on track and even be able to drive out there with them, one, is a win for me, but then two, anytime I outrun anybody, for me it’s like, ‘Good!’ You know? I mean, they have more experience than me. So for me it’s just continuing to learn.

I learn a lot from him. Watching him, listening to him on the radio, even just his communication with the crew chief. I’ve learned so much this year just listening to him and how he gets feedback. For me, feedback, the prior years I would barely give any, right? And that’s not good for the crew chief. He doesn’t know what he needs to adjust. Listening to him, I’m like, ‘Oh, wow. This is what I need to talk about. This is the kind of feedback the crew chief needs.’ And that’s helped me out a lot this year, just kind of learning how to be a little bit better on the communication side of things.

But yeah, my first time even jumping into racing, period, I was doing track days with my Corvette going to road course track days, had a lot of fun doing that. After about two years of that, I finally decided I want to jump into a real-life racecar. I decided to jump into a late model, and that’s basically kind of how I kicked everything off. It’s funny because two of the people racing here at Talladega this weekend actually were racing late models that year too for their first time: Riley Herbst and Blaine Perkins. So it’s kind of interesting to see that we’re all at this level now racing against each other still.

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Hopkins: Let’s go back to your early days, Kyle. Fifty ARCA starts and then you made your first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start in 2015. When did you get that call? Were you nervous? Excited? Both?

Weatherman: Oh, yeah, at both. At the end of the day, from when I was 8 years old till when I made that first start, that’s what my goals and aspirations were to do. So to finally check that box and just be a part of one of the three top series of motorsports was huge for my career personally, mentally. It’s just everything, right? Even if it was just that one. But very cool day to do that and then kind of look back at where we’ve been from there on has been really cool as well. So this is just the beginning as well. I’m just very thankful for everyone that’s been a part of my career so far, and once again, I said there’s big things to come.

Hopkins: Do you remember the call for that ride?

Weatherman: My first truck ride was actually with Lira Motorsports, and I was driving their ARCA car for a handful of races there, and they actually end up starting two Truck Series teams toward the end of the year. I was on the list to make it and was there, so I just capitalized on opportunity. I think that’s huge in this industry, in this sport, it’s positioning yourself in the right place, right time. When that opportunity arises, you got to capitalize on it. It’s a performance-based sport. When that opportunity is there, you’ve got to make it happen.

Hopkins: How about the call for Jesse Iwuji Motorsports? What was your emotion when they offered you this ride? 

Weatherman: I mean, it went from a low to high, I guess in a sense. I had five races with Mario Gosselin and kind of knew that going into it unless marketing dollars were going to be any better than what was already brought up. So, the fifth race was at Atlanta Motor Speedway. We finished eighth. So, it went from a high to a low to a high, and that’s exactly how this motorsport industry is, right? So fortunately have been a part of a lot of highs and lows through my career, so I was, I guess, mentally prepared for it in a way.

Hopkins: Have you talked to [team co-owner and NFL Hall of Famer] Emmitt Smith at all?

Weatherman: One time. I met him at Texas [Motor Speedway]. This was about three months ago. I want to meet him more. Just an incredible person to be around. Just from, once again … the drive that he has, the accomplishments that he has and the motivation. When you look at him, speak to him, just the encouragement and the drive that he gives for just being a part of the team. He’s just an awesome person to be around, an awesome owner to drive for, and it’s very cool to have someone like that on our side.

 

Hopkins: This is this is the most competitive you’ve been in your NASCAR career. Do you feel like you’re here for the long term? Is this a place where you feel like you can settle down?

Weatherman: Absolutely. That’s definitely kind of what I hope and dream. But for them to give me the opportunity, very thankful. I feel like it’s just been a good mesh from what I’ve been able to bring to what they’ve been able to bring. To me, it’s been very good. But we’re still working on the sponsorship side of things and the marketing dollars, which is obviously the struggle in this sport. But there’s very good people surrounding Jesse. So once again I feel like we have all the parts and puzzle pieces that we can fit. Just aligning them in the right order and positioning it is what’s going to be very important and starting now and offseason and stuff like that to make all this stuff happen. But I know all the puzzle pieces are here. We’ve just got to align them and make it happen.

Hopkins: I talked to you, Jesse, at Darlington [Raceway], and you mentioned the idea of wanting to open up a second team. Let’s say you get that marketing money that you need to open up that second team. Is Kyle the first one in that car?

Iwuji: Yeah, most definitely. Like, hands down, no questions asked. So right now the goal is to get a two-car team going for next year. That’s what we’re working toward. Obviously, it costs more money, right? We’ve been fortunate enough to even put a one-car team together, let alone go grab the extra cars, grab the extra equipment, probably need some extra people too as well. All that stuff, it all costs money. So, putting together the right group wanted to make that happen is great. We’ve had other people reaching out as well to come run with us, and there’s some opportunities there.

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But on Kyle, he’s here with us for the long run. I want him to be here for the long run, so somehow, someway, we’re going to figure out how to run both of us. I can’t run every single race because I still have my Navy commitments to do, but Kyle has done really well filling in all those gaps and then also running on weekends when I don’t have anything going on. Just the racing stuff. He still fills in the gaps and does really well for us. So yeah, definitely he has a great future here. I would love to figure it out in a way where you can just run a car full time. Obviously, once again, we just got to keep figuring out ways to bring in all the right brand partners, and the more we do that, the more that we can really provide these opportunities. This team is an opportunity generating system, right? It’s all about creating opportunities for people. No matter what you look like, where you come from. It doesn’t matter.

We’re looking to continue to grow this sport in different ways, bring new eyeballs to this sport, grow what we have going on and also utilize our platform to support our partners Equity Prime Mortgage, Coca-Cola, Chevrolet and all the other folks will come on board in the future. Our future’s bright.

Hopkins: Did the Weather Channel ever reach out at all?

Weatherman: [Laughing] Man, I’m trying. I’m trying. Weather Channel, if you see this, we’re waiting. But for real, that’d be perfect, right? I mean, literally.

I actually did get a couple of responses to some [tweet mentions]. Maybe we can make something happen. Who knows? But I think it’s a good fit with the last name and stuff like that. If I had a dollar for anytime someone brought up, ‘I should be a weatherman/some type of Weather Channel-type situation,’ I’d be a millionaire. But no, it would be a good fit, I think, for sure.

Hopkins: Jesse, you obviously trust Kyle in your racecar. Do you trust him in the drift Corvette?

Iwuji: We were just talking about that. I want to get him in the drift car. I want to teach him how to drift as a racecar driver. You know all racecar drivers have good car control, right? Drifting is a little bit different in some ways where you got to learn to not just put it on the edge, but really, really have it on the edge. Sounds a little tough to kind of get used to at first, but I think he’d pick it up. It wouldn’t take him too long, and he’d be doing it pretty good after a while.

Weatherman: Control the out of control. We’re talking about trying to make after Phoenix [Raceway] work, so we’re working on that now.

Iwuji: Yeah, we’re working on getting him in the drift car. I think it’ll be super fun.

To see the full interview, watch it on our YouTube channel below. 

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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