IMSA paddock surprises Marine veteran Liam Dwyer with book of thanks

Photos courtesy Continental Tire
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This Veteran’s Day, it’s worth taking a look at Marine Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Liam Dwyer, who’s become a regular in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge paddock in IMSA the last four years. His win at Lime Rock Park co-driving with Tom Long in a Freedom Autosport Mazda MX-5 in 2014 helped put him on the map, and Dwyer’s been a full-time competitor ever since from the full 2015 season through 2017. He nearly won the 2015 ST class championship co-driving with Andrew Carbonell.

Dwyer, now, is in recovery following major surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He’s been released from hospital and is now home, but already undergoing PT.

At the end of this year’s IMSA season, the Continental Tire paddock extended a book of thanks – and somewhat off-color anecdotes to match Dwyer’s sense of humor – in a complete surprise to him ahead of the surgery.

That full story is below from Mazda Motorsports, along with Dwyer’s recent tweets of thanks.

“I swear, if people knew what happened in my life on a daily basis,” said Marine Staff Sgt. (Ret.) Liam Dwyer, “they would say ‘how the $#%* are you racing?’”

Mazda racer Dwyer is currently at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recovering from an intensive but successful surgery on his right leg. It is the first of several major surgeries scheduled for him in the coming months, but it’s nothing new for the 36-year-old native of Litchfield, CT, who is a multi-time race winner in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series.

Dwyer suffered grave injuries in 2011 when he stepped on an explosive while on patrol in Afghanistan. The blast meant his left leg was amputated at the knee, while his torso and remaining limbs suffered disfiguring injuries. He has survived approximately 50 surgeries since. If the recovery is a success, it means a life with more mobility and less pain for Dwyer. If he heals well (estimated at three months), Liam will become one of the first to undergo a new innovative procedure to place a rod in his left femur, allowing a healthier and more sturdy connection for his prosthesis.

While he admits that losing the ability to drive race cars is his biggest fear, the always-positive Dwyer has a new source of inspiration for his recovery. At the recent season-ending banquet for the IMSA Continental Tire series, he was presented with a hand-made, leather-bound book that had been signed with notes and well-wishes from nearly everyone in the IMSA paddock area to let him know they’re with him on his recovery.

“I got called up on stage for this book,” Dwyer, who races a Mazda MX-5 for Freedom Autosport, said about the emotional surprise. “It was one of my proudest moments. Proudest in all of racing. I’ve put a lot of effort into what I do here. And, for that to be recognized by my fellow competitors, IMSA people, my crew members, other crew members, that means a lot.

“I’m not the guy that’s always qualifying in the front two or three, but that doesn’t go for lack of trying,” said Dwyer. “My biggest critic is myself. I take a lot of pride in what I do, really doing everything I can to get better at this. I think it’s shown with my growth every single year. But, for my fellow competitors and everyone around to see what I’m doing to get better. It makes it quite a bit easier because it keeps positive thoughts in your mind.”

The book was the idea of Sheri Herrmann, content and communications manager for Continental Tires, the series sponsor, who made sure everyone signed it while keeping it a secret from Dwyer.

“After hearing Liam describe the details of his surgeries, I knew they were serious procedures,” said Herrmann. “They will be life-changing for Liam, and will hopefully provide him a better day-to-day life. But it means time away from his racing family, so I wanted him to know that his racing family is there with him on this journey. Supporting him, praying for him, and giving him the encouragement he needs to get through what is sure to be a tough few months.

“In July, I began collecting messages of thanks, inspiration, motivation, and in some cases, probably some bad humor,” Herrmann said. “It certainly wasn’t easy hunting everyone down without Liam knowing. And a big thanks to Andrew Carbonell for helping secure messages from all the Freedom Autosport team. The end result was worth all of it. He will have this journal to lift him up on the bad days, provide a few laughs, and know how much he means to the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge paddock.”

IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge / Biscuitville Grand Prix / Virginia International Raceway, Alton, VA USA
Saturday 26 August 2017 /26, Mazda, Mazda MX-5, ST, Liam Dwyer signs autograph for young fans
World Copyright: Scott R LePage /LAT Images

Dwyer still seems amazed at how many people he regards as legends took time to sign the book – or even know who he is.

“If what I do resonates through the paddock, it was awesome that people would tell me and thank me for it. They took their time to think about what they’re going to say and there was no holds barred with the…” the Marine Dwyer said, pausing while laughing about what good-natured coarseness he might find in the pages. “I’m probably going to read a few and say ‘that a%#hole!’ But, it’s from everyone’s heart. There are legends, and these guys are aware of who I am, they see what I do and that’s truly humbling. I think ‘you know who I am?! Really?!’ That’s very shocking because I don’t think I’m doing anything special. Going out there driving cars. So, that’s pretty awesome.”

Even the prospect of yet another “surprise” surgery hasn’t dampened his mood.

“Before the surgery, I mentioned to my doctor that I had been having some pain in my hand since July. I had noticed some atrophy and pain pushing my wheelchair,” Dwyer said. “I didn’t take it seriously. ‘Oh, it’s just some pain, don’t worry about it.’ But, the hand surgeon looked at it and said ‘Your thumb is dislocated!’ So, I have been racing all summer with a dislocated thumb. And how do you fix it? Yeah – surgery. So there’s another one for next year. It’s just a life of comedy here!”

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”