Unites States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Liam Dwyer is one of the great comeback stories of the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge. After stepping on an IED in Afghanistan, he lost part of his leg. Now he races for Freedom Autosport, and the man who saved Sgt. Dwyer’s life finally got to watch him race at Laguna Seca.
The loss of one leg hasn’t kept him from doing what he loves. According to a prior interview with IMSA, Dwyer started doing track days when he came home from Iraq in 2007, then moved on to do a Skip Barber Racing School, and then to time trials and instructing. It became a passion for him, but he didn’t get into wheel-to-wheel racing until he came back from Afghanistan in May 2011. It didn’t matter that he was missing part of a leg and severely injured on the lower part of his body. He made it happen as soon as doctors cleared him to race, starting off in a NASA Spec 350Z.
Today, Dwyer can usually be spotted in the paddock with a prosthetic leg sticking out of his firesuit. That leg actually helps him drive a three-pedal Mazda MX-5. Dwyer explained the setup to IMSA as thus:
The goal [has been] to modify the car as minimally as possible, while making it as safe as possible. I will be using a special prosthesis to activate the clutch pedal. My leg will be physically attached to the clutch pedal via a joint attached to a shaft on the clutch. When I pit, I will pull the cotter pin holding the leg to the clutch. I will be able to jump out and Tom Long [his codriver at the time] will jump in.
Last weekend’s race at Laguna Seca was even more special for Dwyer, though. The very reason he’s able to race today, Sgt. Aaron Denning, was there to watch with him.
Sgt. Aaron Denning was the one who slowed Dwyer’s bleeding and took Dwyer to safety after Dwyer stepped on that improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan in 2011.
“I thought he was dead when I got to him,” said Denning after the race.
Thing is, Denning had never seen Dwyer race.
“To have him see this come full-circle for me, right when I’m literally on death’s doorstep talking about how much I love racing,” said Dwyer in a post-race interview. “I don’t think he quite understood at that time how much I love racing and what my passion is with this.”
Dwyer raced well on Saturday, handing off the car to teammate Andrew Carbonell in fourth place.
In the end, Dwyer’s car had narrowly beat out the other Freedom Autosport MX-5 for the ST-class win, with Carbonell making a pass for the lead two turns before the checkered flag was thrown. The Freedom Autosport pits erupted into as many hugs as humanly possible.
Dwyer originally reconnected with Denning after last year’s race at Laguna Seca. It was the first time they’d seen each other since Dwyer got injured.
“Having him come out here, so he can see what I’m actually doing, to see what it’s all about, to see what this has done for my recovery, it’s really...I can’t describe it, the emotions that come up today,” Dwyer continued after Saturday’s race.
Naturally, Dwyer was extremely humbled in his post-race interviews, giving due credit to Carbonell’s excellent driving and most importantly, the man who allowed him to still be with us today.
“It’s like a fairy tale,” said Denning as he tried to hold back tears in post-race interviews. “Liam Dwyer is the living, breathing embodiment of a man who was knocked down, and got back up. I’m honored to be here, and I’m honored to be his friend.”
Dwyer’s other passion is definitely the Marines. His original trip home in 2007 was from taking shrapnel to one side of his body when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee in Iraq. Even after that, he reenlisted to head to Afghanistan. Today, Dwyer is still an active member of the Marines, and focuses much of his energy on staying in shape in order to serve.
Likewise, Denning continues to serve.
May is a special month for Dwyer. He calls May 22 his “Alive Day,” as it’s the anniversary of when his life was saved. This May, with this special team win at Laguna Seca kicking it off, was even more special than most.
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