Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Central to their training, these words inspire U.S. Marines and ensure their success in combat and in life. Today, this creed provides direction for Major Kirk Dooley (USMC Retired) in his campaign to support and inspire veterans injured while serving our nation. With the support of Specialist Jon Winker (US Army Retired), a below-knee amputee, this duo has created Resilience Racing, an amateur racing team that will place amputee or spinal-cord-injured veterans into specially prepared race cars as part of the Champ Car Endurance Racing Series.
This team is proving that physical injuries are no limit to a returning veteran’s racing ambition.
“Nearly 18 years of combat have resulted in soaring numbers of those who no longer have the use of their legs — many unable to pursue their racing passions,” explains Maj. Dooley. “Cost, technical complexity, and limited access to training are among the many barriers to those with disabilities. Motorsports should instead be the great equalizer for the para-disabled, and Resilience Racing seeks to blaze new paths through its racing programs and innovations.”
In this case, the mission is clear. First, select veterans up for the challenges of grueling endurance races that can range from double 10hr enduros to 24 hours of wheel-to-wheel competition. In this effort they have focused on Special Operations Officer Major Matt Lampert (USMC Retired), a double above-knee amputee, and Sergeant Kirstie Ennis (USMC Retired), a single above-knee amputee, who will be the first drivers to utilize the advanced hand controls currently being developed.
The spirit of this team is exemplified by the extraordinary accomplishments of these Marines in overcoming physical disabilities.
Lampert’s incredible journey of resilience started with his commitment to continue to serve with his fellow Marines despite his life-changing injuries. Through tremendous determination and rehabilitative support, he deployed twice more with MARSOC (Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command), including a return to Afghanistan to operate alongside his brother Nate in the same area as the fateful 2010 operation that claimed both his legs.
Matt still runs 10 miles a week with special prosthetics, and currently serves on staff with Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
Ennis, a former helicopter door gunner who sustained numerous critical injuries during a crash in Afghanistan in 2012, has since embarked on several ambitious endeavors and works as a stuntwoman, a veterans’ advocate, extreme athlete, mountain climber and philanthropist.
Recipient of the 2019 Pat Tillman Award at the ESPYs, she has already completed five of seven summits in a record-breaking mission which will raise money for the Kirstie Ennis Foundation.
During her recent Mt. Everest climb, Ennis came within just yards of completing the summit before turning back due to technical challenges. In addition to mountaineering, Ennis sees racing as a new mountain to conquer.
“Being a race car driver would be a means for me to redefine what is it to be ‘disabled,’” she says. “All too often, we let the invisible and visible injuries dictate what we are capable of, when in reality, it’s the six inches between our ears and what’s behind our ribcages that dictates what we can do.”
Competition driver training of these veterans will be critical for success. To this end, Anthony DeMonte, CEO of Skip Barber Racing School, has enthusiastically partnered with Resilience Racing to provide driver development and race support.
While training is already complete for Dooley and Winker, Lampert and Ennis await the development of adaptive controls currently under way. The final and possibly greatest challenge for Dooley and Winker will be adapting the pair of Mustangs to meet the special needs of its different drivers. To meet this objective, Dooley has worked closely with engineers to modify components to fit the unique requirements of the Mustangs yet remain affordable.
Racing-specific controls are not within reach of most aspiring drivers, and this innovation will allow the driver to manage the throttle, brake and clutch with optimized ergonomics to truly compete on a level playing field.
Victory in this operation is tied to the completion of a pair of fully equipped Mustangs with advanced racing hand controls readied for training and competition in the 2020 Champ Car Endurance Racing Series. The vision of Dooley and Winker will ultimately be fulfilled when Ennis and Lampert take the wheel and set the stage for other para-disabled drivers to pilot the cars proving that we can all adapt to and overcome the challenges that life places before us.
Resilience Racing made its debut at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 13-14 in the track’s first CCER event. After an eighth-place finish in the EC class the first day, the team struggled to complete the second of two 10-hour enduros.
“The team was proud to complete the 10-hour race on Saturday and accomplished its goal of gaining overall experience and learning the car. But engine issues plagued our second race, forcing us to bring the car in at about the five-hour mark,” explains Dooley.
This outing was only a first test of the team’s ability. With hand control development still in progress, there’s clearly a great deal of work to do. This early appearance defined the ambitions of the program and launched a critical crowd-funding effort to support the team’s bold initiative. That financial support will assist Dooley and Winker in their efforts to make this operation a complete success.
“The integration of unique electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic controls with racing-specific ergonomics is certainly a bold undertaking for a privateer; but the outcome will represent a leap forward in adaptive technologies that are more accessible,” Dooley says. “Please consider being a part of advancing adaptive motorsports that provide inspiration to all who aspire to race.”
Contributions can be made HERE.