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Freedom Autosport ready to deploy to Daytona for the Rolex 24 weekend

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As we go about our daily lives - working, playing, and living - we sometimes forget that our freedom to do all those things is protected by men and women in uniform who fight to defend our rights on battlefields tens of thousands of miles away. The veterans of the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have made enormous sacrifices in the name of the United States of America, and are although the fight continues overseas, we are isolated from the carnage that modern warfare entails, in the relative safety of our homes. Sometimes, we even forget that we still have troops deployed in harms way.

Freedom Autosport, one of the teams in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series, is dedicated to help honor the men and women of the U.S. military and raise money for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. The team, which fields three Mazda MX-5s in the ST class, proudly features drivers who exemplify the term veteran in every detail.

Mark Pombo is the first veteran to drive for Freedom Autosport. Mark was in the Army Reserve in 2003 when he was deployed to Iraq. He started with a maintenance battalion and later worked with the 82nd Airborne. Mark was part of the first wave of troops deployed in the Iraq war, and he was there for a total of 13 months.

For Mark, driving with Freedom Autosport is the perfect fit. “It’s awesome that they’re trying to give back and show their appreciation,” he says. “And now veterans who come as our guests have someone they can relate to. There’s an unspoken bond between men and women who have been overseas.”

Mark shares the driving duties with his brother, Mat. “It’s a blast to drive and can take everything you throw at it,” Mat says of the Mazda MX-5. “It’s always been a driver’s car. The MX-5 is a platform we’re familiar with, and we’ve been with Mazda for most of our racing career. To continue to race with them and keep that tradition going is something that we value.”

Randy Pobst is joining Freedom Autosport for the entire season, co-driving the No. 26 Mazda MX-5 with returning driver Andrew Carbonell. Pobst was the first person to win an SCCA National Championship in an MX-5, and he has driven a Mazda6 in World Challenge, taking the second spot in the championship from 2005-2007. In 2010, Pobst made two appearances with Freedom Autosport.

“I have watched Andrew grow up in racing, and I’m very pleased to be with such a strong co-driver,” says Pobst, adding that he raced against Carbonell’s father Alfredo in the 1980s. “In endurance racing you need a one-two punch, and I really believe that Andrew is going to be able to improve our chances for wins and a championship. He’s level headed, wise beyond his years and he’s fast.”

Since his series debut with Freedom Autosport, Carbonell has earned three wins and eight podium finishes. “It’s so great to be back with Freedom Autosport and to have the opportunity to race with Randy,” says Carbonell. “I’m looking forward to driving with one of the most well-respected and liked sports car drivers out there. I think we can accomplish a lot for Mazda this season.”

Freedom Autosport will also be entering the No. 27 Mazda MX-5 at select rounds, with U.S. Marine veteran Liam Dwyer teaming up with Tom Long. Dwyer, 32, has competed in SCCA, NASA and vintage racing. In 2013, the Bethesda, Maryland, resident earned numerous race wins, pole positions and track records. He accomplished all of it while racing with a prosthetic left leg, the result of an IED explosion during his deployment to Afghanistan.

As a longtime supporter of those who serve in the U.S. military and a promoter of the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Dwyer is a welcome addition to the team. He will make his pro racing debut with a trio of events: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif., May 2-3, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Conn., May 23-24, and Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va., August 22-23.

“I wish I had a vocabulary big enough to describe my enthusiasm and excitement for this!” says Dwyer. “I’m thrilled about this opportunity. Freedom Autosport is obviously dedicated to veterans and making sure veterans are taken care of at the track. This isn’t possible without Mazda, Freedom Autosport and Long Road Racing.”

Dwyer joined the Marines in October of 2000, inspired to sign up when he heard the news about the bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole. He started boot camp at Parris Island in January of 2001 and was later deployed to Iraq. While there, Dwyer was the turret gunner of a Humvee when it was hit by an IED. The left side of his body was peppered with shrapnel.

Dwyer recovered from his injuries and returned to civilian life until a Major he had worked with called one day and asked him to join a special team for Afghanistan. Dwyer re-enlisted, and in May of 2011 he was searching a compound in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED. It took off his left leg, and Dwyer had severe injuries to his other limbs as well as shrapnel in his abdomen and torso. Four other Marines were also injured in the explosion.

Now, Dwyer has a prosthesis that begins above his left knee, but that has not stopped him from pursuing the racing career he began after his deployment to Iraq. Dwyer keeps contact with the clutch pedal via a bracket and Velcro strap, enabling him to race without needing any hand controls or additional modifications.

In addition to his own racing, Dwyer wants to get other veterans involved, too. “I hope that I can motivate other veterans and amputees to get out and do this. I hope to be a liaison between them and racing to show them this is possible,” he says.

Dwyer will be at the season opener at Daytona International Raceway with Freedom Autosport, and he will continue testing and club racing in preparation for his IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge debut during round three at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, May 2-3.

The season gets underway on Friday, January 24, during a 2.5-hour event from the high banks of Daytona International Speedway at 1:45 p.m., and will be broadcast on Fox Sports at 6:00 p.m.

Stay tuned to this column for continuing coverage of the run-up to the Rolex 24 at Daytona, as well as in-depth analysis and live reporting from the speedway this weekend. Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways,HOAs,elections, and restaurants.

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