A win at Lime Rock was especially satisfying, after he was told he'd never drive a car again
Winners of Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series races rarely make headlines -- especially at a NASCAR Sprint Cup race -- but when a war veteran and an amputee makes it to victory lane, the story gains national acclaim. The race took place appropriately on the Memorial Day weekend at the picturesque Lime Rock Park road course, and the headline maker was United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Liam Dwyer, who co-drove a Mazda MX-5 to victory.
A week later, he was a guest of NASCAR at the Dover International Speedway, participating in a press conference, attending the drivers’ meeting, being introduced to the crowd during pre-race ceremonies, interacting with the Sprint Cup drivers and continuing to enjoy the thrill of victory.
During the press conference, Dwyer described his experiences in detail and talked of his plans going forward.
Talking about his extended rehabilitation program, Sgt. Dwyer, 32, let it be known that he understands adversity to the fullest but medical advisors were taken back to learn the word “can’t” was not in his vocabulary.
In 2007 while in Iraq, he was wounded by shrapnel when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. Upon recovery, he left the Marines only to re-enlist four years later after accepting an invitation to join a special team in Afghanistan. While on patrol in the Sangin Provence, he stepped on an explosive device that sheared off his left leg above the knee.
With seemingly two strikes against him, the Marine exhibited his grit by rapidly progressing through the extensive rehabilitation process, was fitted with prosthesis and set about pursuing his dream of racing cars.
Race cars have stick shifts, which challenge many but not Dwyer. When medical staff told him that he may never be able to drive a car again, let alone a stick-shift, he took their words as a challenge and quickly got to work. “You are out of your mind if you think I can’t drive a car,” Dwyer told his therapist. “On Monday, I sought out my therapist and said to her, “Guess what I did this weekend?’ I drove a stick-shift car.”
The Connecticut native got his start in vintage sports cars and also participated in the Skip Barber Racing School. His skills and determination caught the attention of the Freedom Autosport team, leading to a successful test at Mazda Laguna Raceway. Dwyer impressed team manager Long and since the Freedom Autosport honors men and women in the military, they decided to add a car for the Marine to race.
At Lime Rock, Dwyer started last in the 33-car field, advancing to 25th before turning the car over to Long, who picked his way through the field en route to the win.
“Everyone wants to give me praise, but the team deserves the praise as I wrecked the car a week before in California, so the team had only six days to fix it and get to Lime Rock,” Dwyer said at Dover. “The car was fast but when qualifying was rained out, we had to start last based on points. Based on pit strategy and good driving, especially by my co-driver Tom Long, we ended up with the win at my home track and state. It was a pretty remarkable win.”
After the victory celebration, Dwyer returned to the Walter Reed National Medical Center in the Washington, D. C., suburbs to continue with the rehabilitation program and to share his accomplishments with the medical staff and the other veterans undergoing treatment.
“I am in a very good spot with the Marine Corps with being injured and in being at the hospital. I can come and go as I please,” Dwyer noted, but adding he has had to take leave for his extended trips to tracks. But he hopes Mazda and others may help out with financial support, as racing and travel can be expensive.
While at Dover, he looked up Kurt Busch, who visited him at Walter Reed, and in a special go-kart match race, the two waged an intense battle before the NASCAR ace won out. Dwyer also raced go-karts against a number of NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series competitors, holding his own against the professionals.
“I have been a life-long NASCAR fan and for me this weekend, it means a lot to meet the drivers here at Dover,” he said. “My message is the same one I have been repeating when people say, ‘You have been dealt a crappy hand for being an amputee and with your other injuries,’ -- No matter what challenges we face in life you just have to keep your nose to the grindstone and stay positive. There are people out there who have had it worse than I have.
“Because I have been dealt this hand has really been a blessing, as I am trying even harder. The only reason I have the opportunities I have now is because of my injuries. If people start looking at things in a more positive light, they will get better things out of life.”
To demonstrate his ability to maneuver in and out of a car, Dwyer removed his prosthesis leg during the press conference and described the process he and his team go through tending to him. He noted that the driver change at Lime Rock was quicker than that of several other driver combinations.
Looking ahead and speaking very positively, as you would expect from a Marine, Dwyer said he fully intends to complete his rehabilitation and to realize his dream of racing in the Rolex24 at Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, keeping in mind he has a lot to learn with the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series.
In the meantime, Dwyer enjoyed the red-carpet experience at Dover and hopes for more days like this one.