Freedom Autosport taking its fourth straight Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge ST win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in the hands of Andrew Carbonell and Randy Pobst on Saturday wasn’t the team’s only major storyline.
Saturday also marked the CTSC race debut of U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, who races with a prosthetic left leg as a result of an IED explosion during his deployment to Afghanistan.
Freedom Autosport modified the clutch pedal of the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 with a quick-release pin. Dwyer’s prosthesis is pinned in place for racing, then quickly released for his pit stop and driver change.
Unfortunately that technology wasn’t needed on Saturday – Dwyer’s car ran off course into Turn 2 and collided with another car in the opening half hour of the two and a half hour race.
But the debut was a promising one, to where Dwyer was in the same 1:43 bracket of lap times as a healthy percentage of his peers within the class.
How he got to that point was a good story in itself.
He spent this week learning with co-driver Tom Long, and joked he was about to graduate from “TLU” – or Tom Long University.
“I’m one class away from my mechanical engineering degree,” Dwyer told Sportscar365, when asked about what he hopes to do in the next phase of his life.
“Tom’s been a great teacher… if someday I could be an engineer, working for a Mazda SKYACTIV team or something along those lines, it would be incredible. I’ve learned so much more about the shocks, springs, ride height, compression, and now I know what changes to make. That’s paramount is being able to relay that information.”
Dwyer compared the framework of a racing team to a military unit, and how similarly run they both can be.
“It’s a tight-knit group, and the team itself operates like a well-tuned military unit,” he said. “Everybody has a specific job; they assign a task and we get it done. If you have to make a demand a second time, there’s something wrong about the unit.”
Dwyer also explained how he learned how to handle traffic on this occasion, and how different that was compared to a test session.
“The big thing is watching the mirrors,” he said. “I moved down from the ‘Lightning’ to the ‘Thunder’ group in NASA because the ‘Thunder’ group requires you to constantly check your mirrors.
“My braking points are completely different, but we have tremendously high mid corner speed in the MX-5. So that’s something you have to account for.”
The next race for Dwyer is yet to be determined, but the goal is to see the U.S. Marine back in a Freedom MX-5 again later this year and continue to grow and develop behind the wheel.