The team gathers together in the blustery weather to celebrate a great day working on the racetrack as part of Operation Motorsport. (Submitted photo)
Though it may not lead to a job, but Operation Motorsport allows ill and injured veterans and military members to learn more about racing while being part of a team. (Submitted photo)
Veteran-led Operation Motorsport: Excite, Engage and Empower
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday November 5, 2020
Operation Motorsport helps veterans and serving military members find a sense of purpose and teamwork on the racetrack.
Excite, engage and empower is the not-for-profit’s motto. It is reflected in every facet of their work as they bring together ill, injured, and wounded service members and disabled veterans and introducing them to the exciting world of motorsports.
“We are a recovery program for folks,” said Diezel Lodder, CEO at Operation Motorsport Program Foundation, adding a medical issue is not necessary to volunteer with them.
Though it may not lead to a full-time job in the motorsport sphere, the program nonetheless allows people to get a hands-on taste of what is available to them.
And though they have to diclose what injury or disability they have, they do not have to get into the details and the information stays private. The program aims to help veterans heal from their physical and mental injuries without turning into a therapy session. The event coordinators are tasked in making sure the beneficiaries are comfortable, safe and at ease, but don’t force people to share their emotional state at any time.
“If they don’t tell you, you wouldn’t know,” said Lodder. “They blend in, and that’s the idea. The idea is to give them that new team identity.
“Everybody has a team role, and those roles are just as vital in racing as they are in the military,” he added.
It is well-known that transitioning out of the military, for whatever reason, can be a challenging endeavour. Even with a plan and a support system in place, many veterans find themselves missing the camaraderie and esprit-de-corps.
Lodder was one of those people. He retired after 35 years in 2015 and was lucky that his transition was relatively smooth. But he did find himself with a few unexpected demons to fight. Motorsports became a light that filled him with a Joie-de-vivre that was lacking.
“It saved me and gave me a purpose,” he said. “It gave me a new identity and a new purpose.”
The program was launched and quickly grew to incorporate Canada’s southern neighbours, allowing American and Canadian military members to work together. Though it could be argued that some of the best racing tracks are out of the country, there is an amazing one in Calabogie.
“Our biggest partner in Canada currently is TWOth Autosport,” Lodder said. “They are in Calabogie, and they have their own race shop there.
“We are developing an academy where we will teach folks; we call it Motorsports 101,” he added, pointing out that this program will allow participants to learn the basics.
He hopes that when COVID-19 regulations ease, he’ll be able to bring in a few people from the Garrison Petawawa Transitional Centre to race.
Even during these unprecedented times, Operation Motorsport has continued to build on that by creating e-motorsport races, which are not the typical Xbox games.
They are incredibly detailed and realistic, based on real locations and maintain the physics of an actual race down to the time it takes to change a tire. It is then broadcast live.
“These guys are able to communicate through Discord, they are able to do practice sessions and set them up the week before the race, and it’s set up like a professional race,” said Lodder.
The schedule is on their website; they will be holding a race in honour of Remembrance Day on Nov. 8.
For more information or contact a program facilitator, please visit operationmotorsport.org.