Since I was a teenager, I have always had an interest in racing. I have marveled at the feats of engineering in both on and off-road racing but what I find particularly fascinating is the off road side of things. To not only reach speeds exceeding 150 miles per hour but to survive the grueling terrain of the open deserts in the southwestern region of the United States and the Baja Peninsula is mind boggling. Off road racing is not limited to the high dollar top tier machines either. Rather, one can take a humble air-cooled VW Beetle, with some safety modifications, and enjoy this adrenaline filled past time. Regardless of budget, a car, a driver, and some friends can team up and compete given the chance.
Speaking of adrenaline and teaming up, there is a group of folks in this nation that are used to being part of a team and literally surviving on adrenaline and they have earned the title of veteran. That’s right, our former military members. These guys and gals volunteered to become a part of something larger than themselves and many times found themselves in unimaginable situations, often leaving hidden scars in the wake. Some of these wounded warriors sought help for their burdens, many found ways to self-medicate, and others made incomprehensible decisions. One man found a way to cope and formed a remarkable organization.
Mike Pascarella served in the Navy and has his own story to tell but I can tell you that his time in and following his service paved the way for a new kind of therapy. In 2016, Mike founded the non-profit organization Desert Vets Racing. Their goal was simple: to provide immediate team-building, vocational skills, and mental health support access through the sport of racing to US military veterans and active duty personnel - in order to facilitate healthy transitions into civilian life and lower the risk of suicide and substance abuse dependencies. DVR believes that the growth of locally oriented grassroots activities that involve a combination of technical skills, adrenaline, team effort, and business/marketing skills will ultimately provide a missing piece to the “veteran puzzle” in minimizing the mental health and substance-related struggles we see today. Believe me when I tell you that what Mike and the rest of this time have put together is nothing short of amazing.
I got the opportunity to meet Mike and the rest of DVR in February of 2020 after having my attention caught by a Facebook ad while scrolling mindlessly one evening in January. I came across a flyer offering veteran and active military members an opportunity to get involved with desert racing, a bucket list dream of mine. All I had to do was reach out to them, provide proof of my service, and a narrative on my background in the military and personal life. That was it. I was offered the chance to come out to the desert and on my first event with the team, have a seat in the race car for the race as a co-driver and navigator. No strings attached and no fees or costs associated, just an open invitation to hang out for the weekend and be a part of the team.
The weekend of the race came and I loaded my truck and headed out into the desert, not really sure what awaited but excited because I was going to jump in with a team of military veterans and go racing. What I found was a radical group of veteran team mates and civilian car owners who were just as fired up about being there as I was. The alliance between these guys and gals is unlike anything I had seen before. Since that first weekend I have been welcomed into the family and have had the blessing of joining the team for several more weekends of last-minute race preparations and even a couple more chances to get in the seat. The way these folks support each other is unparalleled, especially between races.
The fascinating part is the fact that this isn’t a one and done kind of thing. You join for one race, your part of the family; welcomed with open arms into the depths of the team. According to Mike they have touched more than 200 lives with this organization and each race, they bless even more while having several members returning each time. DVR estimates that of all the people that have taken the opportunity, roughly half of them are still involved to some degree. Every year since the founding of DVR Mike has worked with leaders within the team, existing sponsors, and potential sponsors to help grow the impact that the team can provide to our nation’s heroes. DVR has grown from a small group in the California desert to having three chapters across the country.
Mike saw a way to reintroduce our veterans to the teamwork and mission format that many longed for following the end of their military careers. By mixing the military mindset and work ethic with racing, many team members found the missing puzzle piece. They also stumbled upon a sort of therapy that was unexpected but not surprising. Many operations in the military induce large amounts of adrenaline, which can be difficult to recreate the sort of scenarios that flood the body with that adrenaline in the civilian world. They found that this flood of adrenaline from racing actually was extremely therapeutic.
Through the power of adrenaline therapy and the bond of service to our country, Mike and the rest of the DVR team have done great things to help support those who were willing to serve the nation. Joining this team not only gave me a chance to do something I had always dreamed of but it connected me with a far greater benefit, a family of service members. I am eternally grateful for that fateful evening of mindless scrolling.