Steve "Dusty" Binns in the Mission Motorsport garage

Meet the military veteran helping restore a crashed car for Festival of Speed — and then turning it into a racer

After breaking his back, former paratrooper Steve Binns had 'nowhere to go' — Mission Motorsport stepped in

If you think the steering wheels on modern F1 cars are complicated, imagine late-braking into a hairpin while changing down a few gears, turning in and clipping the apex, then powering out… only using hand controls. That’s what wheelchair user Steve Binns is faced with when racing one of Mission Motorsport’s specially-adapted racing cars.

Binns, who made it through the Falklands war as a paratrooper without serious injury before, just 20 days later, breaking his back in a motorcycle accident, says he owes much to Mission Motorsport.  The charity supports ex-service personnel via motor racing, helping them put the skills learnt in the military to use in a civilian environment.

“It filled a big hole,” he confides. Binns lived in Devon for a while, where he was involved in a surfing group for veterans (“It’s great for your mental health to be out on the sea.”). But when he moved back to Burford, near Oxford, he says he “had nowhere really to go.”

“I was searching around for things to do. I started rowing. That sort of filled a little gap. It’s quite good for the fitness but you haven’t got that adrenaline rush, like you do with surfing or riding a motorbike. Psychologists have spoken to me about it; you’re trying to recreate that adrenaline rush [from the military.]”

As a result, it’s quite common, he tells me, for soldiers to get injured after they have re-entered civilian life.

“Car crashes and stuff. I don’t know quite what it is. You can never get back that feeling. But having said that, if you’re into bikes, you’re into bikes. My brother was killed on a bike when he was 18 and I was 12. But it never put me off getting on a bike.”

Mission Motorsport attempts to recapture some of the buzz but also the feeling of working in a team, having goals and performing at your peak. There are transferrable skills, of course: tank engineers are able to work on cars without much effort, for example. But problem solving and rapid adaptation are also things veterans ooze, and are incredibly useful in civilian life. Binns wasn’t trained as a mechanic, for example, “It’s just something you pick up.”

The camaraderie of the armed forces is also something Mission Motorsport rekindles. As is the humour. Binns friends call him “Dusty”, after the mascot (and booby prize) Dusty Bin from the 1970s/ ‘80s gameshow 3-2-1. “It’s because of my surname… and the fact that I’m on wheels,” he jokes.

Getting crashed cars back on the road

When I meet him in May at the Mission Motorsport charity HQ near Wantage, Oxfordshire, Binns is using an angle grinder to remove rust from the rear subframe of a Subaru BRZ. Time was of the essence as the finished car was to be put on show at this weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is how I ended up being roped into some of the manual labour.

Will Dron with Steve Dusty Binns at Mission Motorsport headquarters

The subframe was spotted on eBay as a certified recycled and assured fit part – meaning it’s used but guaranteed in good condition and if it doesn’t fit, you get your money back. A light refresh and it could be used to replace the existing subrframe on a BRZ being restored by Mission Motorsport.

That car had been involved in a crash and was one of many listed on eBay as a “Cat N” project car. Cat N is the least serious crash category and means no structural damage was incurred – something eBay’s own research revealed 86 per cent of Brits don’t know.

The Cat N Subaru BRZ aquired by Mission Motorsport via eBay

And then, to the track

Even so, with the cosmetic damage it was available for a relative song, making it a prime target for Mission Motorsport: affordable and restorable. To the charity’s delight, though, eBay stepped in and donated the car gratis.

Following its starring role at the 2024 Goodwood Festival of Speed, there’s a further transformation planned for the Subaru: it’ll be turned into a track car ready for November’s Race of Remembrance, a 12-hour through-the-night event that brings veterans and serving military personnel together to pay tribute to and remember those killed or injured in the line of duty, and their families.

Mission Motorsport Subaru BRZ in the garage

Binns, who raced at the event in 2019, is delighted to get stuck in on the restoration, of course, taking time out of what sounds like a busy retirement to help breathe new life into a broken car. Naturally he hopes to take part behind the wheel himself, though at the time of our chat the drivers were a long way from being selected.

Despite the hand controls being fitted the BRZ would also be set up for non-disabled drivers, too, allowing all drivers – regardless of physical ability. Provided they pass the race licence medical, of course.

Subaru BRZ hand controls for disabled drivers

“Getting your race licence isn’t simple if you’ve got a disability,” says Binns. “You’ve got to do an exit video that shows you can exit the car quickly if needed. You get out of the car and roll. As long as there’s someone around with a blow up mattress, you’re okay! I mean, chances are in real life you’ll be on grass or something.

“The advice now, though, is that unless the car is on fire, stay in the car. Because you become more of a hazard if you get out of the car – another car could come and take you out. Because you can’t just leap over and avoid it. You have to then submit your medical forms and if everything’s okay, you can then go on and do your Ards (Association of Racing Driver Schools) test.”

Steve Dusty Binns at the Mission Motorsport garage

Binns says restoring the BRZ to road spec is interesting but the next bit, when it comes back from Festival of Speed and it’s converted into a race car, is when he can bring more of his experience into play. Clockwork-like driver changes will be particular area of his focus.

“Getting in and out with the rollcage… although you’ve got a compulsory four minute pit stop, say a minute of that is taken up getting the first driver out, and then if you’re putting someone else in with a disability, that’s two minutes. You’ve got to refuel. You’ve got to do it tight. So although it seems like a long time, four minutes, it isn’t.”

The Mission Motorsport crew with the Subaru BRZ project car

So is it about being a part of something, or is it about winning?

“I would say as I’ve matured, and it becomes less important. And I’ll tell anybody, no, the winning is not important, it’s taking part. But as soon as you are in the thick of it…

“I’ve rowed, I’ve played tennis. This is slightly different, but I competed in the Invictus Games, when they did the one at Sheffield, and I got a couple of silvers.” That says all we need to know, but it’s clear that the work of Mission Motorsport is pure gold.

If you’d like to know more about Mission Motorsport and Race of Remembrance, or eBay’s Certified Recycled and Assured Fit services, click the links.

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