Military veterans from around the world race to remember—and to recover
The two Honda Civic Type Rs are nose to tail as they come speeding by. I can just make out the red poppies, Stars and Stripes, and red maple leaves that make up their liveries, but then they’re gone into the distance.
This is a Veterans’ Weekend military fly-by with a difference, taking place at the annual Race of Remembrance at the glorious Anglesey Circuit in Wales. Run by British forces’ charity Mission Motorsport, this 12-hour endurance race takes place over two days with two breaks—one for an overnight rest, and another for a service of remembrance.
Teams representing the British army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force—clad in slick-looking professional outfits—and shoestring-budget amateurs all converge on the most picturesque track in the country. They’re here to race—and to remember those who have fallen in the defense of our freedoms.
Now in its eighth year, the Race of Remembrance is the flagship event for Mission Motorsport, whose motto is Race, Retrain, Recover. Through Mission’s training, mentoring, and support more than 200 wounded, injured and sick ex-service men and women have found employment. Over 2000 veterans have found work thanks to its charity programs.
“Most of our work is actually around helping people get new careers after the military, and the sport is the hook,” explains founder and former Royal Tank Regiment Major James Cameron. “This weekend is about how the motorsport community marks Remembrance Sunday. We come here for a remembrance service and in order to justify that, there’s a bit of a motor race that happens on either side,” he says.
The two Hondas have been brought across the ocean by Mission Motorsport’s North American cousin Operation Motorsport.
Operation Motorsport was formed by Canadian founder and former paratrooper Diezel Lodder, who first attended the Race of Remembrance in 2016. For 2022, Lodder has brought the two Honda Civic Type Rs provided by the famous Skip Barber Racing School, and some 39 people, including 13 ex-forces beneficiaries, two of whom are driving.
“When people medically retire from the military they lose their team identity and purpose, and that’s what we aim to give them back,” says Lodder.
To do that, Operation Motorsport (OpMo) has successfully placed its beneficiaries within North American race teams in IMSA and SRO Motorsports, America’s top two pro sanctioning bodies, and Canada’s FEL Motorsports platform.
“We bring them to the team, the team gives them a shirt—an identity. Then they hand them a rag and say start wiping the car down and slowly they build more skills. It’s not just turning wrenches; we have a beneficiary here who’s doing our social media photography. We’ve had beneficiaries do hospitality, some end up getting their truck driver’s license and then driving the rigs,” he adds.
OpMo also runs a wide range of programs including diversionary therapy, e-sports, and driver development.
It’s through the latter that former U.S. Army helicopter crew chief Hunter Reeve and retired Royal Canadian Airforce 2nd Lieutenant Theo Bruulsema find themselves driving alongside professionals Travis Hill, Mike Stillwagon, Kevin Boehm, Jason Bivins, Huw Leahy, and John Weisberg.
The Type Rs have been shipped over from the U.S. two months beforehand, but this weekend in November, crew only arrives at the circuit in time for first practice. A few electrical gremlins get in the way of early running. Nonetheless, by the end of qualifying the cars are tenth and 11th on the grid.
The lights go out at 3 p.m. for seven hours of competition, and the two Hondas pretty much hold station into the dark. I’m sharing Mission Motorsport’s little Citröen C1 with British Army veterans Matt Stringer and Linda Noble and ex-Royal Navy man Nick Wilson, and it is comprehensively outgunned by the Type Rs. Every four laps or so they fly past in perfect formation, all the way to the 10 p.m. break.
Early the next day everyone is back out on track, picking up the pace in the unlikely Welsh sunshine. At 10:30 a.m., a red and white flag is waved. The cars stop on the grid again. It is time for the remembrance service which makes this event so special.
Fireproof suits are swapped for military uniforms and medals. Engines are silenced, and all 55 teams and their supporters gather in pit lane for hymn and prayer.
It’s a moment that many veterans would choose to avoid if it weren’t for the unique setting. “For one of our guys, it’s the first time in four years that he’s come out of the basement on Veterans’ Weekend,” says Lodder.
“If I was at home, I’d switch the TV off and avoid everything,” says another veteran.
In a masterstroke of diversion, Mission Motorsport’s Cameron breaks the silence with a shout: “Let’s go racing!” Everyone returns to the present and their efforts to finish the final few hours of the race.
At the checkered flag, the Canadian car crosses the line in eighth, with its American stablemate in 12th place—a strong showing for Operation Motorsport and its #22 and #220 Hondas. Those figures are more significant than the teams’ finishing positions, remembering the 22 ex-service men and women who take their own lives in North America every day.
Hopefully, through the work of Operation Motorsport and events such as the Race of Remembrance that number may be a little lower today.