Injured Iraq Veteran Successfully Completes His First High Performance Race Training at VIR

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Veteran John Vann Completes Race Driver Training at VIR

John Vann, U.S. Army Ssg. (ret)

U.S. Army Veteran John Vann successfully completed his first Racing4Vets motorsports career training program at VIRginia International Raceway on the weekend of October 12-14, 2012.  The three day program was run by Racing4Vets and the Mid-Atlantic Division of the National Auto Sport Association.  John successfully completed the three stage pit crew training, classroom education, and professional on-course race driving, becoming the first Racing4Vets combat-injured veteran to pass the program.

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Pit crew training

Race crew training

After a long drive to Virginia from his home in Ohio, John Vann’s weekend began early on Friday morning with a race car testing day.  John became familiar with mechanical preparation of the Racing4Vets BMW SpecE30 race car, test day scheduling, and safety and pit procedures.  He executed tire changes, refueling, tire pressure adjustments, video system setup, lap timing and other hands-on duties required to support a race vehicle. He met numerous NASA race organizers, race team principals, drivers, mechanics and track support professionals during Friday’s test day.

Race driver classroom

Racing driver classroom instruction

Saturday, October 13 dawned chilly and clear with a 7:45 AM all-hands meeting for racers and crew.  With over 350 cars and 1000+ support and spectators at the track, this was going to be a huge event!  John’s first stop was the VIR driver classroom where he joined over 30 future race drivers in NASA’s High Performance Driving ground school.  There he learned the layout of VIR’s famous Full Course, the same layout run by Grand Am, TRANS-AM and American Le Mans professional racing series.  His class session covered track entry/exit, flags, safety personnel and procedures, racing lines,  rules of the road, passing protocols, etc.

Competition driving instruction

John (pilot) & John (copilot) the Dynamic Duo

Full of new knowledge and eager to get behind the wheel, the class headed out to meet their driving instructors, fired up their cars, and lined up on pre-grid.  John quickly hit it off with his instructor (also named John) saying “gee, they made it easy for me!”.  After inspecting the race car and donning helmets, belts, HANS and radio equipment, the dynamic duo of John & John headed out on track in their Racing4Vets BMW SpecE30.  30 minutes later the duo rolled back into the Racing4Vets pit with our brave Iraq veteran grinning ear to ear.  “HPDE drivers report immediately to the Ground School…”  squawked the PA system.  Back to the classroom again, boys!

On track in the Racing4Vets BMW SpecE30

John Vann pushing hard at VIR in the Racing4Vets BMW SpecE30

John rotated his first day between track sessions, the classroom and supporting the team’s BMW SpecE30.  In each track session, he drove faster and smoother, learning  the nuances of the world class VIR track as he pushed the Racing4Vets BMW 325i.  After the third track session, Instructor John declared in his smooth Virginia drawl,  “He’s doin’ good, REAL good! Probably one of the best students I’ve ever had.”  The day ended after hours of competition driving and classroom learning with a dinner and awards ceremony.  The Racing4Vets team then headed to the hotel for some much-needed rest.

John Vann heading on track at VIR

John Vann heading on track at VIR

Another glorious day dawned on Sunday as the Racing4Vets team arrived at the track.  This would be John’s day to build his driving skills, since the racing groups were limited to a short 45-minute morning “fun race”.  This gave the High Performance Driving and Time Trial groups free reign over the rolling green hills of VIR.   John had the squinty-eyed look of a racer as he positioned his BMW at the front of the group “so I don’t get held up by the slow guys any more.”  Get it on!

Chasing a classmate at VIR

Chasing a classmate through the Hog Pen

It was this Army veteran’s day to shine.  As John put the information about the track, flags, RPM, shift points, braking and passing zones into practice, his lap times dropped and his driving became crisp and confident.  He was clearly in his element now, a budding race driver and future racing industry professional putting his newly found skills into play.  A solid bond developed between pilot and copilot.  Lap after lap John drove faster, posting consistent times close to the SpecE30 race group.

VBD Graphics Girls

John with the VBD Graphics Girls

In the afternoon time John Vann and Lawrence Klamecki took a walk through the pits, bantering with other drivers and spreading the word about the Racing4Vets program.  All the drivers, crew and team owners we met welcomed John into their racing community.  John also had chance to meet the VBD Graphics Girls and take a few photos. Who says racing is all hard work?

Veteran John Vann sponsored by

Veteran John Vann sponsored by

As the weekend wound down, the Racing4Vets team stowed the awnings, bagged the gear, trailered the race car, and prepared for a long trip home. John Vann was asked how he felt about his weekend at VIR.  His response was: “I’m hooked!”

A success indeed!

Racing4Vets would like to thank Scott Ceretti at for his sponsorship of John Vann’s training program, U.S. Marine veteran Scott Bates at for designing the Racing4Vets car and logo graphics, for providing social media coverage of the event, and all our individual sponsors.