SRO Motorsports America partners with Operation Motorsport to extend a helping hand to those members of our military medically released looking to find that sense of comradery.
Every race weekend, Operation Motorsport hosts a car corral to provide fans a one-of-a-kind at-track experience. It's a chance for fans to show off their cars and enjoy VIP treatment while raising funds to help our veterans. The funds raised help travel Operation Motorsport beneficiaries to SRO races as part of their motorsport immersion program. While the most notable figures in racing are often the drivers, real heroes like beneficiary Mike Neri, a former Technical Sergeant in the United States Air Force, also play major roles, though without significant fanfare.
Neri’s twin brother Craig, retired Air Force, introduced him to the Operation Motorsport program. Craig Neri now serves as the Event Coordinator for SRO America.
Mike Neri has gone the duration of his beneficiary program alongside driver Kevin Boehm. He began with Boehm in 2021 when Boehm, alongside Neri and three other people, brought to life a racing entry. Neri supported Boehm and was part of the magic that helped the now No. 92 CrowdStrike/AWS BMW M4 GT4 from Random Vandals Racing gather steam pushing forward to become a well-weathered and entry.
“This is my third year working with Operation Motorsport,” Neri said. “In 2021, my first year as a beneficiary, I worked half a season with Kevin Boehm and DXDT racing. The crew consisted of myself, my brother Craig, Kevin and his dad, Herb, and his wife, Sharon. In year two, I did a full season with Kevin and Skip Barber Racing where we had a very successful year, winning the TC title. This year, it's again a big step up to GT4 racing with Kevin, CrowdStrike, and Random Vandals Racing in the brand-new BMW M4.”
Simply showing up with his brother to a race turned into years of hard work. The spark to find the opportunity was familiar to many, the love of racing and yearning to do something you love.
“I have been a lifelong racing fan. I started going to the Twelve Hours of Sebring race in 1985 with my dad when I was 13,” Neri said. “About five years ago I started having those feelings, like a lot of us, that I just wanted to do more of the things that I love in life and racing was the place I wanted to look.
“That prompted me to reach out to several volunteer organizations in the racing community, one of them being Operation Motorsport. Unfortunately, we never connected until my brother, Craig, started as a beneficiary for OpMo at the beginning of the 2021 season. Once he was in, it was easy, and I followed him into the program.”
Neri is someone special to many people in the paddock. In the three years he’s worked under the SRO America banner, he’s grown relationships and truly become part of the teams he’s worked with as a crucial crew member, as is the goal of all Operation Motorsport placements. While those around him are inspired by his work ethic and personal sacrifices, Neri has a team effort mentality toward what he accomplishes at the track.
“I certainly try to be an example of what OpMo stands for,” Neri said. “We're Veterans, we're beneficiaries, who have varying degrees of ailments and disabilities but most importantly, we understand dedication, determination, hard work, precision, and teamwork - all things that racing shares with military service.
“It doesn't matter what branch of service or even what country we're from, every beneficiary I've worked with brings their service values with them to the racetrack, and I know the teams I've worked with appreciate our contributions to winning.”
The teamwork mentality Neri holds led him to take on various roles he never imagined taking on as a volunteer. His success and willingness have led to the deep respect people around him hold for Neri.
“Last year at NOLA as part of Skip Barber racing, we lost two crew members before the weekend even started: one to COVID and another to a family emergency,” Neri recalls. “That left the team without a Crew Chief on Kevin's car. I'll never forget that conversation; Kevin approached me and said, ‘Mike, do you want to be the Crew Chief this weekend?’
“I was shocked, and instantly, fear set in. It’s one thing to be a pivotal part of the team, it's another level of responsibility to be the Crew Chief. Fortunately, I work with the best driver in the paddock, and I knew he'd hold my hand, so to speak, and of course, he was very encouraging and told me to do what I normally do, and things would be fine. I settled in. There were some bumps for sure, but we took first place in one race that weekend, and what a feeling that was. A huge shout out to Kevin and the guys at Skip Barber Racing, who walked me through the process. They were amazing.”
As a standout player in the foundation, Neri has a word of advice for future beneficiaries of Operation Motorsport.
“Be who you are, ask a lot of questions upfront, even in the onboarding process so the staff at OpMo can find a good fit for you,” Neri said. “Once you've been placed, try to find one person on your team that you connect with and do the same; ask lots of questions, be attentive, listen, and learn.
“Most importantly, take care of yourself, take breaks if you need to, make sure you’re eating and hydrating, and be honest with yourself and your team about your physical and mental health and abilities. If you need anything while at the track, find your beneficiary event coordinator, and they will definitely help you in any way they can.”
In addition, it takes understanding on part of the teams and series to know where the beneficiaries are coming from as military, medically released and race fans.
“Just understand that as a beneficiary, we're so extremely excited to be a part of your team. We’re willing, able and driven to help you accomplish your goals,” Neri said. “We're here because when we left the service, we lost that sense of team, unity, pride and purpose that comes from being a part of a goal and mission-driven organization.
“Being with you is therapeutic in ways that are hard to put into words. All teams need to do is be inclusive (Team), welcome us in (Unity), give us direction, explain the process, and give us responsibility (Purpose), and hopefully, what you'll get in return is a lifelong teammate and friend, because we do appreciate you having us very much (Pride).
As Neri closes out his time as a beneficiary, he looks ahead to what he can add to this season in hopes of many more to come.
“I've been doing this now going on three years, and I still dream of doing this as a full-time job one day,” Neri said. “I don't know if that'll ever happen, but you never know what life has to offer in the future. For now, I'm focused on being a great teammate to Kevin and the awesome folks at Random Vandals Racing. I'll do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Neri and SRO America are en route to NOLA Motorsports Park for the next event weekend. Practice begins Friday, April 28. Saturday, April 29, is packed with action, with Qualifying starting the day at 8 a.m. CT, followed by an autograph session at 11 a.m. and Race One ending the day with the green flag flying at 12:55 p.m. The weekend winds down Sunday, April 30, with Race Two. The race goes green at 9:30 a.m.
All race sessions are streamed live on the GT World YouTube page. Join Ash Vandelay on Twitch by following the SROMotorsports channel. Vandelay hosts six-hour programs Saturday and Sunday, where she is joined by drivers while chatting with fans and giving an interesting insight into that day's races.
Tickets are on-sale at www.showpass.com/sro-nola with enhanced offerings including the Patriot Car Corral, recently announced car show – NOLA Motor Showoff presented by The Bomb Factory – and trackside camping. Starting at just $10, it's fun for the whole family with kids 12 and under free with paid adult.