Mark Llano, founder of Serket Racing (Courtesy Mark Llanos)

After taking the hard road, a veteran starts racing to give back

Mark Llano never met his dad and his mother left him when he was a small boy, in the care of his very poor Cuban grandparents in Tampa, Fl. However, at a young age he made it a point to let no obstacle in life stop him from becoming successful. Now the former veteran and entrepreneur is giving back to his fellow veterans, and shares his inspiring story along the way.

“It was a tough road growing up,” says Llano about his adolescence. “I read a lot of books on what makes a leader and entrepreneur. When other kids were doing other things, I was always working trying to get my grandmother out of poverty.”

At 16, Llano had three jobs in order to support his grandmother after his grandfather passed away, but he also remembered the words which fueled him. “My grandfather would always tell me, ‘If you believe in who you are, you will become what you believe.’”

Llano served in the U.S. Marines for five years. He says the Marines became his family, from which he learned integrity and leadership.

He then founded multiple profitable businesses, including his latest, Source One Distributors — an equipment provider to the armed services. And last year, he founded Serket Racing — a car racing team that competes with the goal of raising awareness and funds for military veterans and their families.

The Serket Racing Porsche (Courtesy Mark Llanos)

The Serket Racing Porsche (Courtesy Mark Llano)

On Thursday, he’ll be racing a 2012 Porsche GT3 Cup in the Road America Race in Wisconsin — to raise funds for various non-profits aiding military veterans, including Operation Homefront, Xtreme Couture GI Foundation, and the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities.

“About a year and a half ago, I went to the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, and there were well over 150,000 fans there,” says Llano, remembering the exhilarating sound of roaring engines. “When I saw the impact of the fans in the motorsport world, I thought this was a great way to create awareness.”

The Gulf War veteran spent seven months in Iraq teaching hand-to-hand combat. These days, Llano loves the challenge and excitement of this new thrill.

“I never raced a day in my life,” says Llano, who will turn 45 next month. He spent more than $1 million to get Serket Racing up and running and arranged for 25 percent of the sponsorship money to go to veterans. “It’s a great way to be a role model and give back in the process.”

Already, word has gotten out — Wells Fargo has agreed to donate three homes to three military families, and Llano has raised $100,000 from sponsorships so far — $25,000 of which will be given back to three non-profits for veterans.

“I always said the more successful I’m in life, the more I will always give back and be a good example,” says Llano, now a father to a 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old boy.

One of his main priorities now is to make sure veterans are not forgotten.

“I think these men and women coming back have skills that are very valuable in the job market,” says Llano about his fellow veterans. “I think sometimes just being there and letting them know we care is important, but once they come back we should listen to them. We need to motivate them in a positive way.”

Now that he’s survived the hard road, he says it’s time for him to reach out and help others.

“I think no matter how hard the challenges are in life, it’s how you handle them that will determine how you’re going to be in life,” says Llano. “You can say, ‘Woe is me,’ or realize you can fight through it and it’s going to be okay.”

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