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Disabled veterans get behind the wheel at Groveton's Speedway 51

Union Leader Correspondent

August 18. 2018 8:38PM
Steve Nordby, a disabled Navy veteran from Nashua, awaits his chance to drive around the Speedway 51 track on Saturday. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

GROVETON - Ten disabled veterans got a chance to slide behind the steering wheel of 450-horsepower car and roar around a race track on Saturday, thanks to Speedway 51 and the Hard Luck Tour.

The tour was invited to Speedway 51, located a short distance from the eastern bank of the Connecticut River, by track owner Joey Laquerre, who is also a driving instructor for the Plymouth-based Adaptive Motorsports and Wellness.

AMW gives disabled U.S. military veterans an opportunity to experience the sport of auto racing. Brian Hanaford, who is one of its principals, co-founded the Hard Luck Tour, which is named after his late father, Harold "Hard Luck" Hanaford.

"Hard Luck," who died in March at the age of 89, was a stock car racer from Plymouth, who, despite his unfortunate sobriquet, was a successful driver. Hanaford won the Thunder Road Track Championship in 1964 and was inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame in 2009.

The elder Hanaford served in the U.S. Army in Korea. About 12 years ago, Brian Hanaford realized that the sport his dad loved could have a positive, transformational effect on injured veterans.

Since its inception, the all-volunteer AMW and Hard Luck Tour has provided 300 veterans, including some who are blind, paraplegic or quadriplegic, the chance to take the lilac-colored car out for a spin at a race track. A driving instructor, sitting in the passenger seat, is there to take control if things get dicey on the track.

Depending on the track size, Hanaford said it's not uncommon for a driver to hit speeds up to 90 mph, though higher speeds are possible.

Steve Nordby, 53, a Navy veteran from Nashua whose disabilities require him to get around in a wheelchair, said he was thrilled to swap that ride for a race car on Saturday, giving the latter a solid "10" for coolness.

He said AMW is important "because it gets us out of the house and let's us think we can do things, like drive a race car, that we never dreamed of doing."

"We're trying to tell them they don't have as many limitations as some people think and it encourages them," said retired racing legend "Dynamite" Dave Dion, who served in Vietnam as a member of the U.S. Army, said Dion.

AMW and the Hard Luck Tour, Hanaford summed up, is "not about racing, it's about helping people get their mobility back."

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