Flashback to Memorial Day weekend three years ago.
In dramatic fashion, Liam Dwyer claimed his first victory in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at his home track, Lime Rock Park. The former Marine and his co-driver Tom Long, bested the other Street Tuner (ST) class competitors for the victory in their No. 27 Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5.
The win was a far cry from what the military veteran could have ever expected, considering that in May, 2011 during a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Dwyer stepped on an explosive that resulted in the loss of his left leg and years of recovery time.
“When I first got injured and during my first two years (of recovery), my goal wasn’t to get into a racecar, my goal was to learn how to drive again,” Dwyer explained. “I never imagined I would be racing cars. I love cars, I didn’t start club racing until 2013 and the next year, I’m doing three races in the IMSA series and winning.”
Dwyer first enlisted in the Marines after the USS Cole was attacked in October 2000, and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan during the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Several years later, the Connecticut native actively sought out a combat role with the Marines and served in Iraq until early 2008.
Dwyer then took some time away from the military during which he became more invested in sports cars. His passion, though, quickly took a back seat after receiving a phone call in 2010.
“I got a call from a guy I got deployed with to Iraq saying, ‘We’re putting a team together to go to Afghanistan and I want you on it,'” said Dwyer. “I was in Afghanistan in December 2010 and in May 2011, I stepped on a giant bomb over there that blew off my left leg and injured the remaining limbs of my body.”
Dwyer spent the next several years of his life recovering at Walter Reed Medical Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“For my first two and a half months at Walter Reed, I was in surgery three times a week,” said Dwyer. “I lost count after my 50th surgery. I don’t know how many surgeries I’m at now because of my injuries. There’s a lot that goes on with it and it feels like eight steps forward, 10 steps back sometimes. But then you’ll take 12 steps forward and only nine steps back, so it’s a slow progression and you’ve got to be very patient with it.”
Patience paid off for Dwyer, as he not only earned the 2014 victory, but went on to capture a special win at Mazda’s “home track” of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2015 with co-driver Andrew Carbonell. The Marine who saved Dwyer’s life back in 2011 also was present as a guest of the team.
Fast-forwarding to 2017, Dwyer’s ST team is one of only a handful to finish in the top 10 each race so far. For Memorial Day weekend, he has different plans this year with a break now in the series schedule – a relaxing weekend in Florida.
“My family is from Middlebury, Connecticut, and they have a Memorial Day parade that I used to be a part of,” Dwyer said. “Being that I’m now in Florida, I most likely will not be up there for Memorial Day, but when I am, it’s hot dogs, cookouts, burgers, parades, speeches, hanging out with family. Being that its Connecticut Memorial Day weekend, there’s big racing at Lime Rock. We’ll usually attend those races if I’m up there.”
After already winning on Memorial Day, a victory on Fourth of July weekend at Watkins Glen International would prove to be even more special this year.
“I’ll have a lot family there, but this year we’re having a special guest come to the race,” Dwyer said. “One of the doctors who operated on me, who’s actually done lots of operations on me, and he’s the one I credit for keeping my right leg…he will be there with his family to watch me race. I wanted him to come and see what I do now with the life that he’s given me.”
Bringing his doctor to Watkins Glen is more than a mere gesture for Dwyer, as he hopes to convey a broader message.
“Three days after our season ends in Atlanta later this year, I’ll be going up to Walter Reed and he’ll be doing a pretty awesome surgery on me to hopefully make me even faster,” Dwyer explained. “It also reminds people that yeah, I’m racing now, I’m retired from the military, but my life as an amputee is still ongoing. I still have a lot of procedures I’m going through and it’s always part of the story with me.”