Marine Liam Dywer wins IMSA race with prosthesis
May 24, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
On May 22, 2011, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer was clearing a compound in Afghanistan when he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) and lost his left leg.
Two days after the three-year anniversary, Staff Sgt. Dwyer -- who drives with a custom-made prosthesis that begins above his left knee -- joined co-driver Tom Long in winning the two-hour, 30-minute IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Lime Rock in a Mazda MX-5 prepared by Freedom Autosport.
"Home track, Memorial Day, my Alive Day ... surreal does not describe the jubilation I’m feeling right now."
--U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer on winning IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Lime Rock Park
When military members narrowly escape a fatal injury, they refer to the day as their Alive Day. On Saturday, the Waterbury, Connecticut native celebrated his Alive Day in Victory Lane at his home track.
"Home track, Memorial Day, my Alive Day ... surreal does not describe the jubilation I'm feeling right now," said Staff Sgt. Dwyer, who grew up in nearby Litchfield, Conn.
"Memorial Day is not a day that I take lightly. I know exactly what it means to myself and to my fellow service members. To be here in Connecticut, at Lime Rock, at my home track, a place I've camped at before ... I can't explain how awesome this feels right now."
After racing at the amateur level, Staff Sgt. Dwyer made his professional debut in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge on May 3 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Behind the wheel, he keeps contact with the clutch pedal via a bracket and Velcro strap, enabling him to race without needing any hand controls or additional modifications.
In addition to losing his left leg, Staff Sgt. Dwyer suffered severe injuries to his other limbs and took shrapnel to his abdomen and torso. Four other Marines were also injured in the explosion. Still active in the military, Staff Sgt. Dwyer undergoes up to five hours of rehab a day at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
"I was told by a therapist at Walter Reed that I wouldn't be able to drive a stick-shift again, so obviously that leads into racing," Staff Sgt. Dwyer said. "I've had therapists there at the hospital that have driven me and have pushed me. I've had great people around me that have supported me."
"Mazda took me right under their wing. Two years ago, I met them. Freedom Autosport, they're the guys I met two years ago that are giving me this opportunity. They're the guys that are guiding me, and they're the guys that are giving me the confidence to get out here and do this."
Freedom Autosport is so named because of its support for the U.S. armed forces. The team is a dedicated contributor to the Wounded Support Fund, which benefits wounded Marines and sailors in need upon return from Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Dwyer joined the Marines in October of 2000, inspired by the bombing of U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole. After boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina in January of 2001, he was deployed to Iraq. As the turret gunner of a Humvee, Staff Sgt. Dwyer was hit by an I.E.D., and the left side of his body was peppered with shrapnel.
(Center) Tom Long and Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer celebrate Street Tuner class win at Lime Rock Park. (Left) Stevan McAleer and Chad McCumbee finished second. (Right) Tyler McQuarrie and Marc Miller finished third.