All they really had in common save their military backgrounds was that all had suffered in ways that most of you and certainly I could not begin to understand. Paul Vice’s service in Iraq and Afghanistan earned him the Military Cross, but in 2011 he was blown up by an IED leaving him with injuries including but not limited to a broken neck, a severed carotid artery, a badly damaged arm, and a leg so useless he elected two years later to have it amputated. He survived the initial explosion only because a fellow marine literally stuck his knee into the neck wound, but he still had a stroke, suffered paralysis down one side and partial loss of both hearing and sight. His heart stopped twice on the Chinook that came to get him and once they got him back they pulled 400 lumps of shrapnel out of his body. For reasons I hope are now apparent, we were all a bit in awe of the man everyone calls Vicey.
Andy Jones’s story is a little less dramatic, but no less thought-provoking. He also trod on an IED in Afghanistan, evil devices packed with whatever materials the insurgents can find. He remembers very clearly looking down and recognising part of car’s exhaust system sticking out what was left of his leg. His injuries were not life-threatening and after months of rehabilitation, he was sent back to the Parachute Regiment. But while his physical injuries may have partially healed, the mental ones had not. He was medically discharged in 2013, went home, couldn’t cope, lost his marriage and his house and ended up homeless living out of bin bags. His life is now back on track but as I was to see for myself, the scars remain.
Indeed they came close to ending his weekend almost before it had begun. On the very first corner of his first lap of qualifying, he lost control of the car and parked it in the mud. To most people who race regularly this sort of everyday event rates on the spectrum from faintly annoying to mildly amusing. To Andy Jones, absolutely in bits behind the wheel, it felt like an utter calamity. Unbeknown to me at the time, during practice he had found for the first time his head completely clear of the terrible memories that filled it from what he had seen and suffered during his time in Afghanistan. And now it seemed the one respite he had found had been taken away. It took a lot of quiet encouragement from a number of Mission Motorsport seasoned professionals just to stop him walking away for good there and then.
You look at a man like Andy, a man mountain and product of one of the most elite regiments on earth and it is hard to believe he could be affected by anything. But I’ll tell you this: watching him get back in that car for his first stint in the race – in any race – was one of the bravest things I’ve seen a man do. He drove for an hour and then did so again in the dead of night. And on Sunday after he’d driven the car over the finishing line after his third flawless racing hour behind the wheel in always difficult conditions, a different man emerged from the cockpit. Confident, proud, head high and grinning from ear to ear.