Three years ago, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer lost his left leg in Afghanistan. Saturday, he celebrated the anniversary of his “Alive Day” with a victory in the IMSA race at Lime Rock Park.
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,” 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.”
On Thursday, May 22, Staff Sgt. Dwyer celebrated the three-year anniversary of the day that he was clearing a compound in Afghanistan and stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D). Many military members refer to the day in which they narrowly escaped a fatal injury as their Alive Day.
The explosion took off his left leg, and he had severe injuries to his other limbs, as well as shrapnel in his abdomen and torso. Four other Marines were also injured in the explosion.
Staff Sgt. Dwyer is still active in the military and undergoes four-to-five hours of rehab daily at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. To drive a racecar, 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.
“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,” said Staff Sgt. Dwyer, who began racing at an amateur level and made his professional debut in the Continental Tire Challenge on May 3 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. “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.”
Staff Sgt. Dwyer started last in the 33-car field set by points when Friday’s qualifying was rained out, as the co-drivers of the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 had no points in 2014 competition. He worked his way up to 25th when he pitted during the second caution period, which came out 26 minutes into the event.
Long drove the remainder of the event, and engaged in a heated battle for the lead with Stevan McAleer in the No. 5 CJ Wilson Racing Mazda MX-5 over the last half of the race. Long and McAleer traded the lead five times before Long took the lead for good with five laps remaining when McAleer pitted for a splash of fuel.
Long successfully stretched his fuel load to the finish – and also overcame a spin in Turn 7 – to take the victory.
“My brother Chris kept telling me to conserve fuel,” Long said. “That’s not easy to do when you’re battling for the lead. The gauge on my dash said I had eight-tenths of a gallon remaining at the finish.”
McAleer finished 19.95 seconds behind Long in the No. 5 CJ Wilson Mazda MX-5, as he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit lane following his last stop. Starting driver Chad McCumbee matched his best career finish, with the pair taking second at Sebring earlier this season. The team owned by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher C.J. Wilson placed two cars on the podium, with Tyler McQuarrie and Marc Miller taking third in the No. 3 Mazda MX-5.
Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss finished fourth in the No. 56 Murillo Racing/Mosing Motorcars BMW 328i, followed by James Colborn and Seth Thomas in fifth sharing the No. 82 BimmerWorld BMW 328i.