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IMS Employee Helping To Build Race Team, Special Cars for Wounded Warrior Drivers

When the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built as an automotive proving ground in 1909, it was unfathomable to think that a wounded warrior could race. But 110 years later, Resilience Racing made its debut with the goal of changing that.

Resilience Racing took the green flag at the ChampCar Endurance Series on July 13-14 at IMS for what it hopes will be a groundbreaking run in motorsports in which the team strives to place amputee or spinal cord-injured military veterans into specially prepared race cars. ChampCar Endurance is an amateur racing series for anyone with a valid driver’s license and safety equipment.

The team was founded by Major Kirk Dooley, a former United States Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) leader and now director of event operations at IMS, and Specialist Jon Winker, a retired U.S. Army veteran and below-knee amputee.

Dooley is most passionate about two things: motorsports and helping veterans who cannot drive a normal race car achieve that goal. From the start, the goal of the team was to build a race car equipped with hand controls. But there proved to be many obstacles to integrating components that give true racing performance while focusing on retaining traditional, affordable manual transmissions.

Hand controls in race cars has become a promising industry as of late, with examples such as former CART champion Alex Zanardi. However, as Dooley points out, the technology that Zanardi used was factory-backed and expensive because manufacturers can invest heavily into research and development. Dooley and his business partner Winker don’t have the resources necessary to develop state-of-the-art equipment. Plus, Dooley wants this technology to be available to as many disabled people as possible.

“This is all focused on the everyday person that simply doesn’t have the ability to use their legs but has options to choose to do something like this that is more attainable,” Dooley said. “The person that’s in the wheelchair should have the same opportunity from an availability and engineering standpoint. That doesn’t exist right now for aspiring racers, and I think that’s something that we’ll be able to change.

“Other examples out there use very specialized things where the cost is very high. With the input of several engineers and inspiration from a few other professional disabled racers, we’ve assembled a unique combination of components, and I think we’ll be able to break the mold on a lot of things.”

When Dooley bought his first race car in January, his initial goal was to have hand controls available by the mid-July event at IMS. He soon learned that would be quite a challenge. With such a lofty goal, he partnered with Team BRIT, a competitive, United Kingdom-based race team consisting of disabled drivers, many of whom have served in the British military. Team BRIT aspires to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans one day.

After Dooley realized six months was too quick to form a race team of disabled veterans, he extended his goal of providing race cars with hand controls to 2020, and he set his sights on using the mid-July event to drive awareness and support for his cause.

Many are helping Dooley reach his dream. The Skip Barber Racing School lent Dooley a car to use at IMS and provided driver training. IMS President J. Douglas Boles helped Dooley contact the right people, was there to support the team and raced in the 20-hour event at IMS.

“I took the lead of forming the team and the other participants, but it was always with the goal that we would race together with Doug being a part of this,” Dooley said. “He’s helped out in different ways and introduced us to different people who might have been able to lend support. I’ve just kept him briefed on the progress of the team. We’re honored to have him as a part of the team.”

Experienced racer Boles teamed up with two former Marines, Captain Calum Belden and CWO5 Nate Lampert, who made their racing debut. Lampert raced for his brother Matt, a former MARSOC Marine and double above-knee amputee who deployed twice more with prosthetics, and who Dooley and Winker plan to put in the car when the hand controls are ready.

If all goes according to plan, Matt Lampert will team up with Sgt. Kirstie Ennis, a retired Marine and the 2019 Pat Tillman Award winner at the 2019 ESPY’s. Ennis is a single above-knee amputee who is on the Seven Summits quest attempting to be the first combat veteran amputee to climb the highest point on each of the seven continents. Ennis just returned from a Mount Everest climb that experienced technical challenges and left her only yards from completing the summit, but she vows to be back. 

“Not only did I want to bring my fellow Marines back around, but I wanted to do something a little more ambitious, and that was, ‘How do I get key guys like Matt Lampert, who is a double-leg amputee, and other incredible individuals like Kirstie Ennis, who is a left leg amputee, racing?’” Dooley said.

“This is going to be what gets a lot more people behind the wheel. You shouldn’t need to be factory-sponsored to go do this and have wheel-to-wheel, no-kidding competition out here.”

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