by Tony Fabrizio | February 28, 2017

A Marine’s Ultimate Mission

Defying obstacles and odds, a determined, decorated combat veteran crushes sports car racing records with his Tallahassee team.

Liam Dwyer and Andrew Carbonell; Photography by Mazda Motorsports

Liam Dwyer and Andrew Carbonell; Photography by Mazda Motorsports

Florida sports car racing isn’t just about exotic cars, famous drivers, big-brand endorsements and the latest technology—it’s about human triumph.

Retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, a combat veteran with two Purple Hearts, overcame the loss of his lower left leg to race in the IMSA Continental Sports Car Challenge. Dwyer, 35, originally from Litchfield, Connecticut, became a Marine in the early 2000s and was injured by shrapnel during a deployment to Iraq in 2007. He redeployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and, in May of 2011, stepped on an improvised explosive device, which resulted in the amputation of his left leg just above the knee and more than 50 surgeries.

The long-time motocross sportsman raced a few vehicles before entering the military and was determined to get back on the track, even though doctors told him he’d never drive a stick shift again. The solution: a prosthetic that stays attached to the clutch while he’s racing and a hand control to pump the brakes and keep the pedal primed between right foot braking.

Five years ago, Dwyer took a bucket-list trip to Daytona and auspiciously met Freedom Autosport co-founders Derek Whitis and Rhett O’Doski of Tallahassee as they prepped their MX-5 cars for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race the day before the Rolex 24 Hours.

“Freedom Autosport’s name is a small way to thank the millions of men and women who’ve served our country and the 1.3 million who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” says Whitis, who vividly remembers meeting Dwyer.

“He could only walk very short distances, and the rest of the time, he was on a golf cart being driven around,” Whitis recalls. “He looked me in the eye and said he wanted to drive our car, and I had no doubt he was serious.”

Whitis and Dwyer stayed in touch during 2013 while Dwyer pursued racing opportunities and racked up a long list of wins, poles and track records in club racing. Freedom Autosport gave him a chance in 2014 and he totaled the car in his debut, but, on his second try—almost three years to the day after the Afghanistan explosion—Dwyer and co-driver Tom Long won on Dwyer’s home track.

With backing from Mazda Motorsports, Dwyer and co-driver Andrew Carbonell drove Freedom’s No. 26 car to a second-place finish in the Street Tuner standings. Last year, IMSA awarded Dwyer its Extreme Spirit award for his sportsmanship and respect for others.

“I don’t know if I would call this courage,” says Dwyer, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale with his wife. “Courage is overcoming something you are totally fearful of. What makes this easy for me is I love racing.”—T.F.