Mazda GT-3 racer has overcome a traumatic brain injury to continue racing, and seeks to help others in the process.
John Mills is a real do-it-yourself kind of guy. He built his own SCCA GT-3 racecar from scratch, and (with a little help from friends, of course) his racing is self-supported. So when it came to recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a crash at Mid-Ohio, he quickly set about finding the most effective methods of recovery so he could go racing again. Now, he seeks to help others who have suffered from TBI to find their own paths to recovery.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Spirit of Mazda quality that Mills most exhibits, according to friend and fellow GT-3 racer Rob Warkocki, is Challenger Spirit: Set a high goal and keep challenging to achieve it.
“John has overcome quite a bit to be back in car racing,” says Warkocki. “When I first met John back in the ’80s, he was driving an Opel. He clearly had way more talent than the car did. He could wheel that car and do amazing things with it. He was inspired to do more, and in the 2000s, he approached me at the [SCCA] Runoffs and asked me a lot of questions about how to build his own car. He, like I, was just a regular guy; [he] couldn’t afford much, but he had the passion to try to achieve, try to run up front. He is the only person who has approached me at the racetrack and followed through with what he said he was going to do. He had the tenacity to stick it out and built his own car from scratch.”
It was a rotary-powered GT-3 Miata, and Mills was fast in it. Then came the accident on June 1, 2008, that put him in a coma for two weeks. In the ensuing years, he rehabilitated himself through exercises, positive thought, and other methods. He started a TBI self-help website and spoke to groups of TBI and stroke sufferers. And, after some recovery, he set out to get his competition license again.
Mills formed a company to promote brain injury awareness and inspiration through his racing efforts and public speaking. And Mills, who works as a service manager at Wagner Mazda in Fostoria, Ohio, continues to race his Miata. He finished seventh at the 2016 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Mid-Ohio, where he also announced his recent engagement.
“It took him a long time to get back to where he is now and build that confidence, but he’s had the help of a tremendous support community,” says Warkocki. “He still does everything himself, although there are some things he doesn’t remember how to do [because of the injury]. He gets a lot of support from racers, with tires and parts and things. He’s a wonderful guy who would also help anybody. He still has that competitive spirit. He just loves the sport so much that as long as he’s racing, he’s happy.”
Challenger Spirit indeed. For that, and many other reasons, John Mills is the Spirit of Mazda Award winner for February. For more information, see www.johnmillsracing.com and www.johnmillstbi.com.