Name:

Liam Dwyer

Age:

31

Region:

Northeast

Hometown:

Bethesda, Md.

Racing Class:

Spec Z

Sponsors:

OG Racing, Redline Designs, RDZ Motorsports

Day Job:

Sergeant, Civil Affairs, Wounded Warrior Project, United States Marine Corps

Favorite Food:

French toast

Favorite TV Show:

All televised road racing, “Family Guy”

Favorite Movie:

“Senna”

Favorite Book:

“My Sweetest Victory” by Alex Zanardi
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Liam Dwyer joined the United States Marine Corps after the Navy destroyer U.S.S Cole was bombed in Yemen in October 2000. He said he joined the Marines to defend America and be part of an organization bigger than himself.

As we all know, many troops were called to action in the Iraq war and Dwyer was one of them. He was deployed to Iraq in 2006 and in 2007 the truck he was riding in as turret gunner was struck when a roadside IED detonated. Dwyer was injured and returned stateside. He was discharged from the Marine Corps and returned to civilian life, where he resumed doing track days and autocrossing his Nissan 350Z, until he re-enlisted in 2010.

On this tour of duty, the Marine Corps sent him to Afghanistan.

“We were going out to do a three or four-day operation to clear out some villages that had no Taliban in it,” Dwyer said. “The first compound that we got into, we searched it for IEDs and bomb-making materials and I ended up finding it the wrong way. I stepped on the initiating device and the IED blew up underneath me and injured four other guys.”

Dwyer was airlifted out. Initially diagnosed as a quadruple amputee because of the extent of his injuries, Dwyer underwent numerous surgeries to salvage his limbs from the damage sustained in the blast. His left leg was amputated above the knee and his left arm is back at 100 percent. His right leg and arm are still only at 35 to 40 percent, with limited mobility and still more surgeries to come.

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“That’s part of the fun of being a Marine,” he said with a chuckle. “I guess it shows my resiliency to everybody. You can’t kill me.”

Dwyer’s role with the Marine Corps now is as a sergeant in Civil Affairs with the Wounded Warrior Project, whose mission is “to honor and empower wounded warriors.” Dwyer’s racing efforts aren’t part of the Wounded Warrior Project, but in doing so he demonstrates the spirit of the organization by showing others what he is still able to do despite his injuries. So how does he race a car?

To begin with, his Spec Z is a car he was very familiar with, having tracked and autocrossed it for many years. But that doesn’t explain how he drives a car with a manual transmission with a prosthetic clutch foot. You might be surprised to learn there are no hand controls or special equipment that would keep anyone other than Dwyer from driving it.

The clutch pedal is fitted with a “basket” that holds his foot. The clutch pedal has one side of Velcro on it and his left shoe has the other side of the fabric. There’s also a strap that goes over his foot, but that’s it.

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“There are no other modifications made to the car. I drive a car that anybody could jump into and drive,” Dwyer said. “It’s designed so anybody else can get in the car and drive it without having it get in the way.”

Like so many NASA members, Dwyer’s love of cars is lifelong. His father had a Mustang GT he would run track days with at Lime Rock Park when Dwyer was in high school, and when Dwyer turned 19, he started doing track days, too. The story of how he got into Spec Z is kind of funny.

“I was fortunate that for as long as I tracked my car I didn’t make any modifications to it,” he said. “I’m of the thought process that in order to get yourself faster you have to learn to drive faster. You don’t really start modifying the car.”

Then, in January of last year, a friend sent him a link to the NASA announcement of Spec Z.

“I built the car because this was a fairly easy class for me to get into,” Dwyer said. “Spec Z allows for minimal changes to the car. It’s not like I’ve got to be 400 horsepower and 2,600 pounds. It’s similar numbers to what the car does stock, so I was able to get into it fairly cheap and very comfortably and easily and go racing with it. Spec Z kind of fell into my lap and I’m very happy I’ve done it so far. I’m hoping that fields are going to get bigger.”

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RDZ Motorsports in Danbury, Conn., built the car for him and was on hand for his first race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in April. RDZ handled the setup duties, taking tire temperatures and pressures and helping Dwyer get strapped into the car.

“I don’t get around all that well,” he said. “I need help getting strapped in the car. Sometimes I need help getting out. I really need a crew there with me to help me get set up.

“Once I’m in the car, and people race with me, people forget that I’m a racer with one leg and other injuries,” he said. “That’s really what I’m looking for out of this. Just getting into the car and getting strapped in. Other than that I’m fine.”

Dwyer hopes to show other wounded soldiers what they’re still capable of, that they can still go to the track with friends and race cars or go karts. They might need adaptive equipment or something as simple as duct tape to hold their prostheses to the pedals. But regrets? No sir, none that he can think of.

“I had a good idea I’d get seriously injured over in Afghanistan because of my personality. I’m very aggressive,” he said. “As much as it’s a bad thing losing my leg, if I knew for a 100 percent fact that I would get injured over there, I would still go over there and do exactly what I did.”

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Image courtesy of Brett Becker