RCCC offers sports-management training for veterans

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 26, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
MOORESVILLE — At first glance, Emmett Thomas and Brian Fox look like ordinary 30-somethings.
But both have scars. They just aren’t visible.
They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a by-product of their time in the military.
Thomas is an Army veteran who served in Iraq.
Fox did two yearlong tours of duty in Iraq before being honorably discharged last year.
Things weren’t the same when they returned home.
Fox sleepwalks and has intense night sweats. Some days Thomas can’t force himself to leave the house.
And both shy away from large groups of people.
But they feel at home inside SMP Motorsports’ racing shop in Mooresville, where they attend motorsports classes.
Earlier this year, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College joined forces with SMP Motorsports to offer a certificate program in motorsports management technology.
The seven-course program is offered exclusively to disabled veterans. It is a spin-off of the nonprofit organization Manpower to Horsepower, which was founded by SMP President Sue Roberson to meet the transitional needs of post-combat veterans.
“Roberson wanted to expand her program to include hands-on training, and she contacted RCCC to see how we could work together,” said Richmond Gage, head of the RCCC motorsports management technology program. “We are honored and proud to offer this program for veterans with disabilities.”
Roberson said the program caters to the physical and mental strains disabled veterans may have, giving them an opportunity to get acclimated in the industry.
“They walk you into the course, they don’t throw you in,” Fox said.
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Thomas has been taking classes at Rowan-Cabarrus and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for a couple of years, but the motorsports courses he began last month have topped them all.
“For me, with the PTSD, I have a hard time dealing with larger groups,” he said. “This smaller group has made it a lot easier.”
Thomas said his motorsports instructors have been very understanding about his condition.
“They are a lot more flexible and willing to let me make up work,” he said. “The biggest problem I’ve had with school was the with my PTSD part of my symptoms are a kind of mild agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder) where some days I just can’t leave the house.
“With other classes if you miss two days you’re out, it gives me peace of mind to know that I can come back.”
Fox said he likes being in a setting with veterans who have had similar experiences.
“It’s a brotherhood. We’ve got camaraderie,” he said.
When he first found out about the program, Fox thought it would be a good way to get active and take his mind off things.
“It’s been a wonderful thing,” he said. “This is a release for me and a way to learn something and possibly gain a good career.”
Thomas said the program has opened his eyes to the variety of careers available in the motorsports industry.
With a bad back and several shoulder surgeries under his belt, he has a hard time reaching up or bending over, which means he can no longer do the auto repair work that he used to.
“There are hundreds of jobs in the motorsports field,” he said. “I’m hoping I can find my niche here.”
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Roberson said she’s happy to see the program get off the ground.
“These veterans are just so dear to my heart,” she said.
Working with the veterans this semester has been refreshing for instructor Randy Cox.
“They put in well over 100 percent,” he said. “I wish all my students were as dedicated to learning as these guys are.”
Both Thomas and Fox said it means a lot to them that SMP and Rowan-Cabarrus are willing to provide a program for disabled vets.
“These people know what we’re up against and they care what we’re up against,” Thomas said. “They cater to that to make it easier for us, I think that’s the most important part of this.”
After completing the certificate program, both men plan to continue their studies at Rowan-Cabarrus and earn an associate’s degree in motorsports.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Who to contact:
For more information about the motorsports certificate program for disabled veterans, contact Richmond Gage at 704-216-3918 or by email at richmond.gage@