Ex-Cowboy Smith Taking A Run At NASCAR

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 24 2020

NFL great Emmitt Smith will have a stake in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

FORT WORTH, Texas – These Dallas Cowboys are not “them Cowboys,” the three-time Super Bowl champions anchored by Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith.

An NFL Hall of Famer, Smith needs a reprieve from these Cowboys and he’ll experience it Saturday afternoon partnering with aspiring NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Jesse Iwuji. But first…with the 2020 Cowboys floundering at 2-4, Smith offered a blunt assessment of the organization during a sponsorship event Thursday with Iwuji at Texas Motor Speedway.

“From an emotional standpoint, it is sad, because we call ourselves America’s Team,” said Smith, who retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards. “We call ourselves the best organization in all of football, in all of sports, and we need that to be a reflection in terms of how we perform on the football field. And we need to do that on a much more consistent basis.”

Are you listening to No. 22, Jerry Jones?

Meanwhile, Smith’s Notable Live social media platform (www.notable.live) has signed-on as sponsor of the No. 99 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Iwuji will drive in this afternoon’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300. A 33-year-old native of Carrollton, Texas, Iwuji is a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve who will be making his third series start while dreaming of an all-in NASCAR career.

“It’s truly an honor for me to be standing next to this man, who has served this country for seven years,” Smith said of Iwuji. “To NASCAR, this is a tremendous historic moment because NASCAR does not have that many African Americans on the track. As we all know, this is an expensive ‘hobby’ _ very expensive _ but you’ve got to have the skill set to do it. So for the door to be opened…what is America truly about? It’s about the melting pot, it’s about creating opportunities for others of color, others who may own teams like this. I’m here to support Jesse; Jesse has supported us.”

Iwuji, in fact, officially became a partner in Notable Live last week. Co-founded by Smith, his wife Pat and entrepreneur Mike Antonucci, the platform connects notable talent, influencers and content creators with their fans and communities through positive, two-way engagement, bringing fans “in the room.”

“This is kind of the first phase of the whole thing or trying to bring it out to the fans and just show how influencers now have this platform to bring their fans together,” said Iwuji, who has worked this season as a pit reporter during NBC Sports’ NASCAR broadcasts. Emmitt is really at the forefront of this whole thing and it’s great to be able to showcase it on the race car now. Hopefully this will lead to more.”

Iwuji’s NASCAR resume is thin, with only 11 starts in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, including the 2019 spring race at TMS. Iwuji qualified 30th and finished 17th, a career-best. Saturday’s race will be his first Xfinity start on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval. B.J. McLeod Motorsports of Mooresville, N.C., owns the No. 99 Chevy.

“I’m still learning as a driver. I’m baby-stepping the whole thing,” said Iwuji, who launched his racing career in 2015. “Wherever I finish this weekend is where I finish. The big thing is don’t wreck, finish all the laps _ learn _ so I can get better and better.”

Iwuji, who played free safety at the Naval Academy (2005-09) said he and Smith have been brainstorming all aspects of NASCAR involvement.

“My intention is to own my own race team, have some partners in there,” Iwuji said. “I feel like we’ve been networking with all the right people to eventually make that happen. Give me a few months to figure it out. Whether it’s fulltime or part-time at first, whatever it is God has a vision for me.”

Voted a member of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team and inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor, Smith preached the benefits of inclusion during the unveil.

“There’s nothing like a hometown hero to inspire other young men and women to want to do things they thought were impossible,” said Smith, 51. “So the walls should come down to open opportunities for men and women and all people of color who really want to do the hard work to get to this place. But you got to have an opportunity and the door has to be opened.

“I did not become Emmitt Smith overnight. It was a process and it still is a process. It’s a journey and it’s never easy for anybody to be successful. Nobody becomes successful by themselves. When you’re given that opportunity, you got to put in the work to take advantage of that opportunity. And when you take advantage of that opportunity, you got to leave the door open for someone else to come behind you and take it even further. If we’re not advancing, we are regressing.

“NASCAR, with what they’re doing right now, they’re starting to advance in the most positive way because there’s room for everybody to play. There’s talent everywhere. You’ve just got to give talent an opportunity and a fair shot at it and they can become successful and make not only you proud, but make America proud. That’s what America is all about _ lifting each other’s spirits.”

Fittingly, Smith was referencing Cup regular Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing and retired NBA legend Michael Jordan unveiling the name of their start-up Cup team on Thursday. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace will form the driver’s half of a team featuring a black majority owner and driver. Pronounced twenty-three eleven, the name is a tribute to Jordan’s jersey number during his championship run with the Chicago Bulls and Hamlin’s car number with JGR.  

“NASCAR has opened that door for this young man (Iwuji) and Bubba Wallace as well,” Smith said. “Michael Jordan has invested, many others are looking to invest in things like this. So I’m proud that Notable Live has partnered in with Jesse and I look forward for more opportunities to bring NASCAR into the room and into our events.

“We’re developing a long-range plan for the company itself, so we’re both at ground zero. Hopefully we can grow together. There are templates out there, but right now we’re going to start with being on the hood of this car and supporting Jesse.

“Talent is everywhere. It’s not limited or reserved to one race or another race. Young people who don’t even know Jesse right now, as he continues to rise and do great things in this series, maybe his name will become a household name _ which would be great for the sport.”

TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage lauded a budding partnership with local ties. “What we want, what we need to see _ there are seven Texans running in the three (NASCAR Playoffs) races this weekend,” Gossage said. “We need to see local guys doing good in NASCAR, somebody to pull for. So we’re really counting on Jesse to come through and do well and climb the ladder and make it to the very top rung of the tallest ladder in Cup.”

Smith assured the assembled local media he will continue to root for the Cowboys, a prime audience magnet for Notable Live guests. Sunday’s event and Inside the Game featuring Smith and former Washington Football Team defensive line rivals Charles Mann and Dexter Manley, will begin on Notable Live at 12:25 p.m., CDT.

“We’ve got to get this thing corrected quickly, because I can’t keep having these guests on blasting me,” Smith joked. “And this week I’ve got Charles Mann and Dexter Manley. Now you know Dexter Manley is going to be talking straight-up trash! So my Cowboys, you got to save your boy some kind of way. Save me!

“All I can say right now is I’m wishing them the very best because I know it’s not easy when you have people like myself and others out there maybe criticizing what you’re doing. It’s not a good feeling. I’ve been in that locker room. So I really don’t want to pile on because enough people are piling on right now. All I can say is, man, hang in there and ya’ll come together as a team, turn it into us-against-the world and just block the world out. “

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 (3:30 p.m. CDT on NBC Sports Network, PRN, KFWR 95.5 The Ranch) is the fifth of seven Xfinity Series Playoffs races and will be run as a non-spectator event. Smith will serve as grand marshal and give the command to start engines for a race scheduled for 200 laps/300 miles.

Chase Briscoe punched his ticket into the Xfinity Championship 4 with his ninth win of the season last weekend at Kansas Speedway. Briscoe swept both stages and led 159 of 200 laps around the 1.5-mile layout. Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones and Austin Cindric round-out the current top four via points.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 24 2020
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