On May 22, 2011, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer’s life turned upside down when he lost his left leg and severely damaged other extremities in an IED exposition in Afghanistan.
After being told by doctors he’d likely never be able to drive a race car again, the 32-year-old Litchfield, Conn. native, who began club racing in 2007, didn’t take no for an answer.
Three years after celebrating his “Alive Day” — the anniversary of a close escape from death — Dwyer was spraying champagne in victory lane this past weekend at Lime Rock Park, after claiming victory in only his second Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race.
What’s more, it came on Memorial Day weekend, while driving for Freedom Autosport, a team formed by Derek Whitis to pay tribute to the U.S. armed forces.
“Memorial Day is not a day that I take lightly,” Dwyer said. “I know exactly what it means to myself and my fellow service members, but here in Connecticut, at Lime Rock, at my home track, a place I’ve camped at before…
“I’ve watched all these guys race on Memorial Day. To be here racing on Memorial Day, let alone in Victory Circle, I can’t explain how awesome this feels right now.”
Dwyer, who wears a special prosthetic leg to activate the clutch pedal in his Mazda MX-5, drove a solid opening stint before handing over to co-driver Tom Long on Lap 22. From there, the CTSC veteran worked his way through the field to take the lead and eventual win.
“Right off the bat, it was right on rails,” Dwyer said. “We made a few tweaks to it to get it race prepped. We missed qualifying [on Friday], so we used our qualifying setup and ran the race on that. I loved the car from the beginning.
“My whole goal was to get the car to Tom in one piece, which is what I did, and moved up a few spots for us to get him in position to contend for the win. That’s what Tom did, as Tom always does.”
Saturday’s race marked a culmination of sorts for Dwyer, in what’s been a challenging road to recovery for the Marine, who also sustained severe wounds to his right leg and arms in the explosion.
“I’ve had therapists at [Walter Reed] hospital that have driven me and have pushed me,” he said. “I’ve had great people around me that have supported me. Mazda took me right under their wing.
“Freedom Autosport, they’re the guys I met two years ago that are giving me this opportunity. They’re the guys that are guiding me, and they’re the guys that are giving me the confidence to get out here and do this.”
Dwyer, who only made his Continental Tire Challenge debut earlier this month at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, says he wouldn’t be in this position today if it wasn’t for his loved ones that gave him the extra push to try his hand again in racing.
“I have a phenomenal family around me,” he said. “My mom has been supporting me from the beginning. My girlfriend has been supporting me. She’s actually the one who really pushed me to get in contact with Tom and Derek last year when I had almost given up on the racing aspect.
“They’re the ones that have really pushed me with it. I’ve got a ton of therapists, nurses and doctors at the hospital that have literally pieced me back together and rebuilt my body to get me strong enough so I could do this.
“So, it’s to all the doctors, the nurses, the physical therapists, the occupational therapists, the staff at Walter Reed, the Marines that sit there and guide us to make sure we’re doing the right thing.
“I’ve got to give my kudos and thank you’s to them. Because, if it wasn’t for them, I would not have been in the position to where I could get in the car here with Tom Long and drive this Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5.”
While Dwyer is not scheduled to return to Continental Tire Challenge action until the VIR round on Aug. 23, he’s unsure what his immediate future holds.
“I’m not going to get my hopes up too much,” Dwyer said modestly about his future racing plans. “There’s always somebody younger and faster that’s willing to step up and step into these spots. If we can continue these good runs here, we’ll see what the plans have for me.”
However, Dwyer’s remarkable comeback has undoubtedly been the feel-good story of this Memorial Day weekend.