(TheBlaze/AP) — Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer calls May 22, 2011 his "Alive Day."
The reason? He was working with a special team in Afghanistan on that day, searching a compound in Sangin Province, when he stepped on an explosive that sheared off his left leg above the knee.
The blast also damaged his right leg and right arm, to the point where Dwyer says he has little feeling in that hand.
Dwyer also served with the Marines in Iraq. While a turret gunner of a Humvee in Iraq in 2007, he was injured after taking shrapnel on the left side of his body when the Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.
The fateful trip he took to Afghanistan in 2011? That was after a return to civilian life.
Yes, Dywer reenlinsted after his 2007 injuries, only to suffer even more devastating injuries.
"I know exactly what it means to myself and my fellow service members," he said. Four other Marines were injured in the 2011 explosion.
The 32-year-old returned home for rehabilitation. He was fitted with a prosthesis for the leg and soon after began to think about fulfilling his need for speed. So he began racing vintage sports cars and was encouraged by friends and family members to market his skills to other circuits.
Dwyer got the attention of Freedom Autosport and driver Tom Long came to watch his test run at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in January. Long was impressed with Dwyer's steadiness and savvy on the track and gave him a positive review.
"I was immediately impressed, not only with his attitude but his balance in the car," Long said. "There's an obvious fit."
And fast forward a few months and — bam!
Dwyer and Long on Saturday won the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge event at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.
"Saying I'm excited is a major understatement," Dwyer told The Associated Press by phone shortly after the victory. "I am ecstatic about this."
Dwyer drove the first 22 laps and was 25th in the 32-car field before turning the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 over to Long for the rest of the way. Long took the lead for good with five laps to go and went on to a nearly 20-second victory.
In this photo provided by LAT Photo USA for IMSA, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer drives his car during the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Lakeville, Conn. (Image source: AP/Scott R LePage, LAT Photo USA for IMSA)
Freedom Autosport brought Dwyer into the fold — and he'll run select rounds on the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series this year. His next scheduled event is Aug. 23 at Virginia International Raceway in Alton.
The only thing Dwyer needs to race is a bracket and Velcro strip that allows him to keep contact with the clutch pedal. That, Dwyer says, allows Long or another driver to quickly take over when necessary.
In this photo provided by LAT Photo USA for IMSA U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, left, and Tom Long, right, celebrate in Victory Lane after winning the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park, Saturday, May 24, 2014, in Lakeville, Conn. (Image source: AP/Scott R LePage, LAT Photo USA for IMSA)
Dwyer understands his backstory and military history are part of his appeal. He has no illusions, though, that he'll stay around long without top-notch driving skills. "There's always someone younger, faster, who's ready to move in," Dwyer said. "That's the way racing goes."
Dwyer grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut, about 40 miles from Lime Rock. And that his victory came on Memorial Day weekend with those who served front and center made it a perfect time.
"I can't explain how awesome this feels right now," he said.
Here's a clip of Dwyer and Long speaking to the crowd after their victory: