Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer (left) and Tom Long (right) celebrate on the top step of the podium. (Photo: LAT Photographic)

(left) and Tom Long (right) celebrate on the top step of the podium after winning the Continental Tire SportsCars Challenge race at Park. (Photo: LAT Photographic)

Three years ago, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer lost his left leg while on duty in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, he was standing in victory lane with co-driver Tom Long after winning the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.

“Home track, Memorial Day, my Alive Day … surreal does not describe the jubilation I’m feeling right now,” said Staff Sgt. Dwyer, who grew up in nearby Litchfield, Conn.

“Memorial Day is not a day that I take lightly. I know exactly what it means to myself and to my fellow service members. To be here in Connecticut, at Lime Rock, at my home track, a place I’ve camped at before … I can’t explain how awesome this feels right now.”

Dwyer drove an impressive opening stint before handing the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 over to Long, who would go on to win the race by a margin of 19.950 seconds over the No. 5 CJ Wilson Mazda MX-5.

Dwyer, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was severely injured on May 22, 2011 when he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D) while clearing a compound in Sangin Province. The blast sheared off his left leg above the knee and caused damage to his right leg and right arm. Four other Marines were also injured in the explosion.

The 32-year-old returned home where he underwent intense physical therapy after being fitted for a prosthesis on his left leg.

“I’ve had therapists there at the hospital that have driven me and have pushed me,” said Dwyer. “I’ve had great people around me that have supported me.”

With help and motivation from those around him, Dwyer began driving cars at local tracks with hopes of paving the way towards a professional racing career.

In January, Dwyer was testing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca where he impressed the Mazda-backed squad of Freedom Autosport. The team elected to sign him for select races in the 2014 IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season — including the Aug. 23 event at Virginia International Raceway, which will serve as Dwyer’s next race.

To best suit Dwyer’s needs, Freedom Autosport fits the car with a special bracket and velcro strip that allows Dwyer to keep contact with the clutch pedal. It also allows for faster driver changes when it’s time for Long to take over.

“Mazda took me right under their wing,” said Dwyer, who will make his third start with the team on Aug. 23 at Virginia International Raceway. ”Two years ago, I met them. Freedom Autosport, they’re the guys I met two years ago that are giving me this opportunity. They’re the guys that are guiding me, and they’re the guys that are giving me the confidence to get out here and do this.”

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