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Motorsport comes in for a lot of flack these days. I’m sure most MotorPunk readers, like me, have, at one time or other, had some hemp-clad Guardian reader at a meat-free soiree deride them for their love of cars and motorsport – dismissing all its four-wheeled forms as some irrelevant elitist pastime of wealthy, planet-wrecking willy-owners – before they casually switch the topic to macramé, cats or that ‘delicious’ dhal recipes that we simply ‘must try’.

OK, so maybe that was just me, but you get the picture. However, if you really wanted to turn the tables and show those good folk just how powerful motorsport can be as a force for good, then you would only need to get them to spend a few hours with the people at Mission Motorsport. With the strapline “Life after the Armed Forces” it is the official motorsport charity of the British Armed Forces that’s working hard to rehabilitate through motorsport and help former service personnel prepare for new careers in the ‘high octane’ world of motor racing, event organisation and automotive engineering.

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The weekend before the Revival, in the midst of Lord March’s frantic preparations, Goodwood played hosts to the 2014 Mission Motorsport Invitational where an eclectic collection of cars – from pre-war Bugatti to modern McLaren, from 1300cc Alfa Junior to 7-litre Dodge Viper – were assembled to offer flying laps of the legendary circuit to ex-service personnel, patrons, sponsors and other charity supporters. A-list motoring journalists, respected race drivers and proud owners of priceless old exotica gave up their time to show their support – often scaring the beejeesus out their passengers as they used the track time for pre-Revival shakedowns. We F-listers from MotorPunk brought along a factory-fresh Morgan 3-Wheeler for old-school hoons around the estate’s back roads. Small beer compared to the fleet of Rolls Royces, concourse Astons, historic race cars (including the charity patron Sir Stirling Moss’s race winning Jaguar C Type) and press fleet Audi R8 and Porsche 991 Turbos among the swarms of supercars; but we tried to muck in as best we could thrapping about in the little V-Twin.

The evening before, over a ‘couple’ of ales at the Goodwood Hotel, former Royal Marine Tony Compson, now crew chief to the charity’s Max5 race team, explained how Mission Motorsport actually works: ‘A lot of the guys we work with are in their early twenties. All they ever wanted to do was be a soldier. Now they’re having to look for a second career while also having to adjust and cope with serious physical and mental scars … We mentor them, teach them skills, show them just how big the motor industry is. Not just the new-car industry and motorsport but classic cars, too. We’ve just done Le Mans Classic with a bunch of lads supporting a 1929 Blower Bentley.’ Tony then proudly reeled off a list of former soldiers who have since gained positions or placements with the likes of Caterham F1, Bentley in Crewe, ProDrive, Aston Martin and various other companies in the automotive industry … there was a lot of them but my memory of stuff after 2am is a bit sketchy. But, I do remember that he introduced me to an interesting young chap called Dave.

Dave Wilkins suffered a serious ankle injury while serving with the REME back in 2004. This meant that he was unable to work on Army vehicles which ended with a prolonged medical discharge. ‘I went through a long period of having no motivation. Then in November last year my boss introduced me to Jim Cameron [the founder of Mission Motorsport]. OK, I’m still on painkillers and I still have difficult days. But now, when I wake up I might feel groggy but I want to get up – I want to come here and do this. Mission Motorsport has given me a reason to get out of bed. It has allowed me to get back doing what I want to do … Long term, I’d love to go and work for a company building race engines.’

 

Dave is currently preparing a Mission Motorsport MX-5 for double-amputee Davie Birrell. After losing both legs to an IED in Afghanistan Davie really struggled to adapt to life outside the Army. Major Jim Cameron clearly had a soft spot for Davie but added that when he first met him Davie was perhaps the ‘angriest young man he’d ever met’ and was battling crippling PTSD. Davie, with guidance and support from Mission MotorSport (and a few more BHPs courtesy of Dave Wilkins’ talents) is currently sitting second in the Max5 championship in a non-adapted race car, and is the first double-amputee to ever take a podium against able bodied competitors.

Davie’s story enraptured us all, but his was just one of many   the thrills and spills of motorsport had help returning heroes rebuild their lives. Our weekend with Jim Cameron and his team was both humbling and inspiring in equal measure, and had a profound impact on all who attended. I’m not sure I’m clever or articulate enough to really do Mission Motorsport justice in such a short feature in our humble e-organ. So please watch this short video from a pro at the BBC looking at the experiences of one ex-soldier, Sgt Gary Dunning.

 

Thank you.

By Dr.O

For more information about Mission Motorsport, please visit their website: Mission Motorsport

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  1. Mission Motorsport Goodwood Invitational - Cafe Roadster

    […] With the strapline “Life after the Armed Forces” it’s the official motorsport charity of the British Armed Forces working hard to rehabilitate ex-Service personnel through motorsport and preparing injured men and women for new careers in the high octane world of race car engineering, event organisation and even wheel-to-wheel racing. Last year we were lucky enough to join Mission Motorsport to report on their Goodwood Invitational, and it was an absolute privilege. Read more here … […]

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