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Kings County men healing at the track

Brent O’Connor and Mike MacAdams of TeamWorks Motorsports want to use car racing to help first responders and veterans dealing with operational stress injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Brent O’Connor and Mike MacAdams of TeamWorks Motorsports want to use car racing to help first responders and veterans dealing with operational stress injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). - Kirk Starratt

TeamWorks Motorsports aims to help injured veterans, first responders through love of car racing

KENTVILLE, NS - Spending time at the race track helps them cope with stress injuries and they want to share this experience with other veterans and first responders.

TeamWorks Motorsports racing team partners Brent O’Connor, of Kentville, and Mike MacAdams, of Lumsden Dam, share a love for the track but their involvement in racing means much more to them than that.

After 20 years in the air force, O’Connor retired in 2011 after experiencing some mental health difficulties that impacted his work as an aviator. He said that after you’ve been doing something for so long and are then told you no longer can, you feel “sort of lost.”

That summer, he got a call from a friend who invited him to the Atlantic Motorsport Park in Shubenacadie to lend a hand with the upstart Maritime High Performance Driving Club (MHPDC). This led to O’Connor doing some officiating for them.

O’Connor met MacAdams through a veterans’ group that they were both involved with. One day, O’Connor mentioned what they were doing with the driving club to MacAdams, who used to race out west. After that, both got involved.

“We both found that going there and doing things made the next day better, sort of a reset,” O’Connor said.

One of the club members had a race car, a Honda CRX, which he sold to them. O’Connor and MacAdams got involved in road racing and decided that the experience was too good not to share, so they started inviting other veterans and first responders with operational stress injuries, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to join them. O’Connor said it gives them a place to go, share a common goal and work as a team to accomplish it.

O’Connor said the Honda CRX needed a lot more work than they could accomplish over a winter, so last year he decided to buy a new car, a 2002 Pro Challenge, three-quarter scale stock car. It is purpose built for circle-track, stock car, asphalt racing but has been converted to road race configuration so it turns right and left.

The frame is built from round and square tubular steel, the body is made of fiberglass and it’s powered by a motorcycle engine and transmission. It’s decaled as a Toyota Camry. O’Connor said they plan to have a full race season with the car in Shubenacadie this year.

“The whole powertrain is out of a Kawasaki Ninja 1100,” he said. “Pretty much the only part that I can point to that is off of a car that I know of is those brake rotors are from a 1975 Toyota Celica and the rear differential is out of a 1985 Toyota Corolla GTS.”

O’Connor said there is some adrenaline and competition involved but the TeamWorks initiative is really about using racing as a social outing for injured service people and first responders and to help them gain a foothold over mental health challenges. The race car serves as a grounding and rallying point.

So far, they’ve held two track days where they’ve invited veterans’ groups to join them and O’Connor said the participants have loved the “recreational therapy.”

He said the MHPDC has been incredibly supportive of the TeamWorks initiative and the work they do with the club can be just as rewarding and enjoyable for men and women who “just want to get out and do something different.”

Thanks to partnering with the MHPDC, they are able to invite people along for a day — or more — just to hang out or to train them to get involved in various aspects of racing.

“When Mike and I started doing it together, that was when it started being about more than just going racing,” O’Connor said. “Without having someone else to really enjoy it with, it’s just hard work.”

He said they think differently and see things differently but the two look out for each other’s wellbeing, at the track and away from it. This support can be as simple as one reminding the other to drink some water or to have something to eat. O’Connor said this has been essential for him.

He said one of the reasons why they’re focusing on injured veterans and first responders is that they share a commonality. There is an opportunity for understanding, even if those people are from very different backgrounds. The focus is on working together as a team, hence the name TeamWorks.

O’Connor and MacAdams said they are very fortunate to have families that are supportive of their racing endeavours.

The TeamWorks race car takes turn three at Atlantic Motorsport Park in Shubenacadie. - PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN DOUBLEDAY PHOTOGRAPHY
The TeamWorks race car takes turn three at Atlantic Motorsport Park in Shubenacadie. - PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN DOUBLEDAY PHOTOGRAPHY

All about the social aspect

MacAdams said that the initiative gives him something to look forward to and it gets him out of the house. It’s all about the social aspect. He had been looking for something to do when he met O’Connor by chance.

“I raced out west so that was kind of my passion and I had no idea that a race track or any event or any club or anything existed here. I thought the closest race track would be in Quebec,” MacAdams said.

After hearing about O’Connor’s involvement at the track, MacAdams said it was a “no brainer” for him. He decided that this is how he wants to spend his summers now.

“This is going to be my fun, this is how I’m going to make it through,” MacAdams said.

He said he met a great group of welcoming people at the track. MacAdams enjoys the automotive racing lifestyle of going to the racetrack on the weekend, bringing his family along and camping out.

MacAdams, who is now retired from his career in the army, said he and O’Connor are from very different military worlds and they wouldn’t necessarily have been in the same social group before. However, even though they excel at different aspects, they share a love for automotive racing. He said there is always a task at hand and this gives you a purpose.

“It’s the greatest escape from life because it’s you and the car and the racetrack,” MacAdams said. “It’s a completely focused activity that allows me to not worry about all of the other stuff that’s going on in my life.”

He said there’s so much that you have to think about when you’re inside the race car that you can’t be distracted by anything else. The familiarity of the activity and the heightened mental focus brings him happiness.

MacAdams said he and O’Connor have developed a friendship through the endeavour and this has allowed them both to recognize when the other may need some help. In this regard, they approach each other in a frank, direct way.

“We don’t have an issue with asking each other for help,” MacAdams said.

“And we don’t have an issue turning to the other person and telling them they need someone’s help,” O’Connor said.

The TeamWorks race car enters turn one, also known as Villeneuve Corner, just past the start-finish line at the Atlantic Motorsport Park in Shubenacadie. - PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN DOUBLEDAY PHOTOGRAPHY
The TeamWorks race car enters turn one, also known as Villeneuve Corner, just past the start-finish line at the Atlantic Motorsport Park in Shubenacadie. - PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN DOUBLEDAY PHOTOGRAPHY

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This year, they’ve added another driver with a military background to the team, Chris Marriott of Halifax. O’Connor said they really want to take this beyond two men and a garage and would love to add more members.

O’Connor said he wants to be 70 years old and still hauling a race car to the track with a group of teammates who share a common background. He wants to watch them come together as a team and realize that “there’s more to their life than what they left behind” in their career.

“We don’t need you to be a mechanic, we don’t need you to be a race car driver. If being around that environment is something you’re interested in, and you know how to make a peanut butter and jam sandwich, then you’re qualified,” O’Connor said.

He and MacAdams credit the late David Peters for giving them the encouragement and confidence they needed to jump into the racing endeavour and for helping them realize that the TeamWorks initiative was what they were meant to do.

To contact TeamWorks Motorsports or for more information, visit the team’s Facebook page.

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