When you think of therapy, what comes to mind? Quiet rooms? A sofa? Maybe online sessions now? Question and response?
Well, what if instead of that, it was the loud roar of a flat-four, high-speed driving, and tactical approaches to competition?
Many people will refer to racing as their therapy. But for Tony Lacy and the Racing for Heroes Charity organization it takes on the most literal form of the word.
“We’re a 501(c)3 charity focused on helping veterans,” Lacy told DirtFish of the organization at New England Forest Rally. “We have a, for lack of better terms, chapter of the organization, and we focus on rally and drifting, and getting veterans into recreational therapy.”
Recreational therapy, if you don’t know, is a form of therapy that uses leisure and sporting activities as a means of easing and assisting individuals as they work toward better mental or physical health.
“We get veterans to events spectating, crewing, driving, hanging around, and just keep them out of trouble.
“The hope is we bring them in, we help them through their recreational therapy and at the same time, we get them into a sport that is actually a lot of times cost prohibitive.
“So we help cut some costs for them and get them in there, give them the networks, and then they can build their own rally cars and move off and be faster than me,” Lacy joked.
So how did this charity-based, veteran-led rally team get it’s start? Well it spawned back about fifteen years ago when Lacy himself was a member of Special Operations in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“So, in 2006, I was in a vehicle strike,” Lacy explained. “So I took some injuries, and resulting from those injuries, I had pretty severe anxieties about some things: Small cars, tight, confined spaces.
I went from jumping out of airplanes and all the cool stuff to just driving to work.Tony Lacy
“So I retired from the Army, and these little anxieties I had were getting worse, and my wife actually told me, ‘you need to find something to do.’
“I went from, jumping out of airplanes and all the cool stuff to just driving to work.”
Lacy began helping people crew in the rally world, and eventually got with a few friends and started building their own car.
“We had a shop, and we started bringing more veterans in, and it grew from there. So, what it means to me is, that it’s a coming along of just an idea of a bunch of dudes in a garage one night, to start building a rally car because it’s something that we always wanted to do.
“And then we discovered how therapeutic it is for building, wrenching, being part of a tribe. Rally itself is a tribe of people and it doesn’t matter which sanctioning body or whatever, you know, I think it’s, of all the racing venues out there, rally has just offered so much.
“We’re our own safety out there. You know, the guy behind you is going to be the guy that saves your life, or your co-driver, she might be the one pulling you out, or whatever happens.
“So it’s a really good atmosphere environment to bring veterans into. Because everybody here is just here to rally and have fun and make friends.”
Other conversations with veterans involved in US rallying have had a similar theme of rallying being a fitting sport for vets to enter. In addition to what Lacy mentioned, there’s a very large structure in rallying that doesn’t come with many other motorsports.
Reconnaissance before the race starts to scope out the stages and form a plan in the form of pace notes. Heavy reliance on your partner in the navigator seat to feed you the information they need if you’re driving, and trust in your driver’s abilities if you’re navigating. The necessity to adapt at a moment’s notice while you’re in relatively remote parts of the country for any number of reasons.
All-in-all, it’s more similar to what veterans had experienced in the field than many other forms of racing.
Lacy at this point had also founded his own state charity that he called Rally for the Troops, which became a gateway to Racing for Heroes.
“So, Racing for Heroes started out, really focused on like dirt track racing, you know, circle track stuff, and I had started a local non-profit, a state non-profit, called Rally for the Troops.
“We were at a convention and I met them, they had their booth set up and I started talking with them, and our mission statements were very similar.
“They were good guys coming out of the special operations community. I was coming from the Special Operations community, and so they offered to let me join up with them with the effort that I had.
“I already had one car, and was in the process of acquiring a second car, and so they allowed me to stand up the rally chapter, and it was almost immediate that the first place I came was NEFR to spectate.
“We brought some veterans up here to spectate, and we started out just getting veterans spectating. I’d only participated in a different sanctioning body and this was just spectacular.
“So we did a few of the ARA rallies and ARA seem to be extremely supportive of us and all the different folks involved. So our organizations kind of gave me permission to run with it, see what we can do with it, and so I’ve procured the other car.
“We have a charity car that we put veterans into, and now, we’re about ready to have the second car.
“We’ve already run, like, six crews through it but now we’re stepping it up, and bringing it up to ARA, so at STPR we should have two RFH rally cars, and we’ll bring more guys.”
But it’s not as simple as getting a free drive in a rally car. RFH Rally Team still makes sure that everyone earns their place behind the seat.
“So RFH, we call it a sweat equity organization. We have a wellness center, then we bring veterans in and we offer them auto racing as a venue for recreational therapy and teamwork and to become a part of the tribe, but it’s not a free ride. There’s no free ride.
“In our organization, you come in, and we have skill levels from dudes that could build a car out of a cardboard box to guys, like me, that break the car every time I touch it with a wrench. We have mentors in there and the guys, no matter if they’re doing dirt track, drag, rally, the different series and stuff, we pair them up with folks that help, that know about the series and they work on the cars and most often they start out crewing.
“We have a guy here crewing for us. His name’s Steve, he’s crewing for us in this rally, he’ll be crew for a while, and then he’ll move into either the co-driver seat or into the driver’s seat and get to run a car.
“We do fundraising internal and external. All of our donations to the organization goes to our wellness center, but we do directed fundraising to help raise money to cover some costs with the recreational therapy programs that we have. Not just the rally.”
It has the names of all the fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan up until about I believe 2017. So we need a new wrap, unfortunately, as there's way more names on there.Tony Lacy on the team's memorial trailer
And of course, RFH makes sure to carry on the legacy of their fallen brothers and sisters in any way they can. One notable example being the trailer they use to bring vehicles to events.
“This is our memorial trailer,” Lacy explained, “and it has the names of all the fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan up until about, I believe, 2017. So we need a new wrap, unfortunately, as there’s way more names on there.
“We’re working with an organization to get some more wraps done, and we have the names of the fallen and all of our cars are dedicated to fallen soldiers.
“We put the names on there and it goes to all the racing venues, and [every event] random families will come up and they’ll see the name of a family friend. We’ve gone to different venues and had brothers and sisters of the names on there and it’s usually pretty moving to see that they know that there’s a mobile tribute getting out and letting people know that what we have isn’t free.”
If you’ve been watching the ARA competition this year, you might have already noticed Black Rifle Coffee Company getting involved with veterans in the sport quite heavily this year, and now as of NEFR, the two have teamed up, with the RFH car running a full Black Rifle livery.
Lacy explains the connection, “We kind of have a cadre, and our task is to go out and raise resources, and most of us are out of the special operations community, and the special operations community is a very tight network.
“Although I never met Jarred Taylor [of Black Rifle] when I was in, he’s one that got all this going. After I retired, I was working with a guy that knew JT and I was asking them about Black Rifle and you know, and I saw that they were doing some stuff with Travis [Pastrana] years ago and I’m like, ‘I wonder if they’re into rally.’ Then I noticed he had a Focus RS and stuff, and so I just started hitting them up on Facebook.
“And finally, I came to a realization and I said, ‘hey, by the way, we’re a charity!’ I was leaving out a big part of it.
“I was like, you know, ‘hey, we’re a bunch of veterans’ and so he saw, Black Rifle, saw the need that we have to grow, and they know that they have the avenues to do it and so he offered up a partnership with us and helped us get here.
“We wouldn’t be here without them at this rally. We would still be putting stuff back together. But again we have a saying in the military, task, conditions, purpose, right? And that’s what we give guys and that’s what Black Rifle helps us, gives us a task, condition, and purpose in helping the veteran community.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I mean Black Rifle is a great organization they have amazing reach. Really good media folks and everything. Everything they offer us is pretty top-notch. So we’re really happy to have them on board with us. We hope to do even greater things in the future.”
While it’s always great to watch rally for the high-speed cars doing cool things out in the woods like most of us do, it’s organizations like the RFH Rally Team that remind us there’s always more we can be doing to help others, and make a lasting impact on the world while we carry out our racing passions.
If you are out at a motorsport event and happen to see the RFH memorial trailer, make sure to stop in and see what they’re about, you won’t regret it.