By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer – On November 3, 4, and 5, On Mission Motorsports (OMM) is taking 18 veterans and first responders to the 2023 Cali Rally in Johnson Valley and Barstow, California, put on by DP4 Racing. “It’s our Annual Memorial Race where we honor 18 vets and first responders and we also honor 13 fallen as well,” says Kevin Self, West Coast Leader of OMM. Spectators are welcome. The race begins at 10 a.m. each day and goes until about 2:30 -3:00 p.m. You can find the GPS coordinates on their Facebook page.
This is an off-road racing and camping event for the invited participants and their families. They camp in rented travel trailers. Pit Lead Todd Hopkins is in charge of the food. He says, “We’ll smoke some meat, make breakfast burritos and all that fun, normal good stuff. We’ll have s’mores for the kids and stuff at night; do what you would normally do if you were desert camping: A fire at night, hang around and tell stories.”
That is just the setting. The real action is during the races. “We put them in a race car for a little adrenaline therapy, a little camaraderie, get that team back together. Some of them don’t want to get in the race car. Some only want to go a mile. Some want to ride the whole race. And if they don’t want to do that, that’s where Todd steps up and they help Todd out in the pits. So it’s just about getting everybody back together.”
OMM will have three vehicles for racing. One belongs to Self and the other two are being brought from Tennessee by the founders of OMM, Melanie and Jeff Goldsmith. Each of these cars seat two people. Hopkins has a vehicle that seats four and is used to give families a taste of what the racers are doing, although they don’t race. Hopkins tells us that not all of the participants are local; some of them are being flown out here from back East and some are traveling in caravans with the Goldsmiths.
“This race is a little different and unique,” says Hopkins, “because it starts in one part of the valley and ends in a different part. And then they start the next leg of the race the following day where you ended, but we’re only able to camp in one spot so we have to move remotely to start that next part of the race and then finish it back where we originally started. So that’s what makes this three-day race pretty unique.”
“The full race would be 125 miles,” explains Self. “So we will do five laps over 25-mile loops. On the second or third lap, that’s when Todd checks the car over, they fuel the car up, and then we go back out. We get the veterans or first responders who are riding with us to interact on the radio while we’re going. They call out danger signs, they call back mile marker signs, so they kind of know where we’re at. And they feel like they’re part of something.”
This is therapeutic. Self says, “You bring some of these guys out that are real quiet and all of a sudden, they start talking and they open up and we sit there and listen.” And that is the point of this good time. OMM website says, “Adrenaline Therapy. We put American Heroes in the co-driver seat for an off-road racing experience.” Their mission: “Providing comradery & outlets for stress by promoting connectedness between veterans, active duty service members and first responders with the off-road racing community as a key strategy in the prevention of suicide and substance abuse.”
Self-suggested looking at a particular testimonial on Facebook. Jessica Coleman is an Army veteran who returned from Iraq with PTSD. After her first race, she said, “You don’t know how much I needed this!” She says of OMM, “When I got in touch with him, Jeff immediately was like, ‘Here’s my phone number. I don’t have a clue who you are but here’s my phone number if you need to talk,’” Coleman says. “He and his wife have both become family. If I have a problem, I know I can truly call him and say, ‘Look, I’m having a hard day.’ I would say this has become my mission because when I go race, I know that I’m going to have a smile on my face and that I’m coming back with a clear head so I can be there for my family and not have a feeling like they’d be better off without me.”
Self is a Ridgecrest native, Burroughs graduate, and a US Army Veteran. After leaving the military, he returned home. He tells us, “We were living in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Fayetteville is a big city and we wanted to go back to that small town feel. Raise the kids in a small-town feel. We know because we both were raised here. That’s what we were looking for. And that’s what brought us back.”
Hopkins says, “I am not a veteran. But I’ve been in Ridgecrest. 20 years. I grew up in the big city of Los Angeles, and had just graduated high school and really didn’t have many plans for what I really wanted to do for the next chapter of my life.” He moved to Ridgecrest, worked, met his wife, and started a family.
Self became involved with OMM after meeting Jeff Goldsmith while working in a race pit in January 2022. At that time, he was involved with DVR Racing, a group out of Temecula, California. Self and Goldsmith clicked. When the race was over and Self was home again, he called Goldsmith and thus, the West Coast OMM began. Locally, there are about 20 members and the East Coast has about the same number spread through Tennessee, South Carolina, Indiana, and Texas.
Hopkins met Self through racing. “The more we got to talking, things just started to click. I thought, ‘This is just really a cool organization. I need to check this out and see more of what it is.’ My daughter works as a nurse and she’s going to drive in one of the cars this race as well. But I just knew I wanted to be involved with them because of the good things they were doing for veterans. I’ve always had a spot in my heart for veterans and first responders in the things that they do.”
Their organization is funded entirely by donations. The drivers own their own cars and receive no funds. When a donation is made through their website, onmissionmotorsports.org, all of the funds go in one pot. Race organizers submit their receipts from buying food, supplies, and whatever expenses arise and are reimbursed by the non-profit.