When U.S. Army veteran Tom Woods wanted to get back into racing, he also wanted to do something positive. Woods then partnered with Diamond Level Motorsports and Fisher House to bring together a group of five veterans, and himself, on a team that would take on the toughest endurance race in North  America.

“The thought process for me was that if we had a group of veterans who had all been in combat together, they could support another veteran through the trials and tribulations of a 25-hour endurance race” Woods said. “So, they’re getting recreational therapy, but they’re also a team once again, they have that brotherhood once again, and that’s something that a lot of veterans are missing when they come back home.”

Fisher House is best known for establishing a network of homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. The charity also operates the Hero Miles program, which takes donated frequent flyer miles to bring family members to the bedside of injured service members. Fisher House used that program to fly all the veterans in for the race at Thunderhill, about an hour north of Sacramento, Calif.

Woods said one of the myths about returning soldiers with PTSD is that they might be harmful to society, which isn’t true. The reality is that most of them want to sit at home and isolate themselves. Most civilians don’t understand what they’re going through, so it’s difficult for vets to reintegrate into society. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse often are associated with PTSD, but recreational therapy can help, and that’s what this team effort was about.

“The vets that are here have already come up to me and said ‘This is above and beyond anything that I expected. When we first heard about this, we didn’t realize we were going to get this much out of it,’” Woods said. “What’s cool is I’ve seen these vets come out here and immediately work just as hard in getting this car ready for the race as they worked in Baghdad in serving their country.”

So how did they do? Well, they were the only car running in ENP, so they took first there. They also took sixth place out of 58 cars overall, won the under-2.0-liter trophy, and were the highest qualifying and highest finishing Mazda-powered car.

Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan wars served as the pit crew for Diamond Level Motorsports, which ran Jeremy Croiset’s NP01 in the 2016 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Vets from left: David Butcher, Scott Ralston, Tom Woods, Josh Leland and Andrew Trefonas. Desert Storm veteran Sean Mellick, who is not pictured, also crewed for the team.
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Image courtesy of Brett Becker