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Bryan Canon and Sean Hillis work together building and racing cars and hope to get more veterans involved in the sport. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune

Vets get a new kind of adrenaline rush

Prepping a race car engine and planning for two big events, Warriors on Track PacWest coordinators Bryan Canon and Sean Hollis were symbolic of what they hope to soon provide other veterans; the chance to be part of a race track environment and the comradery of others who once served their country.

While driving a racecar or tinkering with an engine might not seem especially related to combat duty or military life in general, Canon and Hollis say the comradery of a pit crew and adrenaline rush of preparing for a big race can provide life-altering therapeutic relief from combat-related PTSD.

After launching their effort locally in 2017 as Rogue Spartans Racing, the group became Warriors on Track PacWest just months later, after connecting with Warriors On Track founders Tom Wood and Jon Warren.

Warriors On Track began in Southern California in 2016, geared at offering a three-part approach to helping veterans readjust to civilian life while treating symptoms of PTSD.

The approach includes neuromodulation treatment, a process involving magnetic resonance therapy, or MRT, job and skills coaching and, where Canon comes in, good old-fashioned recreational therapy.

A lifelong Medford resident and Army veteran, Canon was born into a racing family that had ties to Siskiyou Sports Car Club dating to before his own time. A 1994 graduate of South Medford, Canon joined the Army and, after being injured in Afghanistan in 2011, retired in 2012.

“I was medivacked home and suddenly I found myself sitting on the couch and not leaving the house very much,” Canon said.

“You lose something when you come home because you’ve got a group of people you constantly train with and you can rely on and depend on… and it’s suddenly just gone. And you miss it.”

Coming from a racing family, Canon recognized the similarities between combat and autocross.

“I decided I would take some veterans and we’d go racing. My idea was to have a completely veteran-run race team. We figured, ‘OK, we’ll bring some guys in, let them work on the car and, after some time, turn ‘em loose and let them drive it themselves.’”

Canon said the connection with Warriors On Track was a no-brainer, “since we were pretty much doing the same thing and they were kind of doing what I was doing, but without the race cars.”

Long term, Canon hopes to have monthly groups of veterans visit the Rogue Valley to participate on race weekends at the Jackson County Sports Park.

“We’ll run up to four drivers but for the guys with no interest in driving at all, maybe they could learn to work on the car or other aspects like photography or marketing or other skills that could possibly generate employment in the industry.”

Organizational structure and fundraising challenges aside, Canon and Hollis were gearing up last week for their first two large-scale events: this past weekend’s 2018 Cascade Lakes Hillclimb, a two-mile trek up Conde Creek Road off Dead Indian Memorial Road and, on June 16-17, their first official weekend representing Warriors On Track at the Southern Oregon Speedway near White City.

Hollis has no plans to drive but is content to work on — and teach others to work on — the group’s trio of race cars. He describes his official capacity as “I fix things when he (Canon) breaks them.”

Hollis, who got involved when Canon realized he was “hiding out at home” like so many veterans, said he’s eager to see the organization help other veterans in need.

“Once you get out of the military there are a lot of things you miss. You don’t have the adrenaline or the comradery of it anymore,” Hollis said.

“You’re driving a car, fast, on a track, so you’re going to get your adrenaline rush that you don’t really get anymore. It’s in a controlled environment, which is safer, plus you’re in a group of veterans who have been there, know what you’re talking about and understand what you’re saying.”

Hollis said he and Canon, and fellow veterans they have yet to meet, already have a connection.

“The really great thing is, most vets, you don’t even have to know each other and you’ll get along just fine,” he noted.

“I do it all the time — with random people I don’t even know — I can sit down and have hourlong conversations where we can sit and talk like we’ve known each other for years. There’s already a connection.”

For more information, see https://warriorsontrack.org.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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