Michael Johnson is one of many young men trying to make a name for themselves on the IndyCar racing circuit. But Johnson isn’t just another race car driver. He is paralyzed from the chest down.
Jalopnik brings us the story of this courageous young man who isn’t letting anything come between him and his love of racing. Interestingly, Michael Johnson didn’t begin as a race car driver. He actually got his start racing motorcycles. And it was doing that where he had a fateful accident at the young age of 12.
Eight years ago, he was competing in a flat-track motorcycle competition at Hiawatha Horse Park, a half-mile track in Sarnia, Ontario. He’d gone into 2005 aiming to win the Supermoto championship, having taken third place in the Junior Red Riders Supermoto Challenge the previous year.
The track was wetted down, with plenty of mud to mix with the typical “pea gravel” racing surface. The 14-time national champion was in third, and about to make an inside break for the lead when he ran out of tear-off sheets for his face shield. As he was wiping off the mud spray, his 250cc bike veered sharply to the right, and, at upward of 80 mph, smashed through a fence and into a post. Slammed forward into the handlebars, Johnson broke his collarbone, right ribs, left ankle and left leg. He also fractured his T5 and T6 vertebrae. He was conscious through the entire ordeal.
“Don’t make me stop racing,” he told his father, Tim, who had rushed to his side.
Johnson’s father didn’t, and actually took the steps to keep his son racing. Although Johnson wouldn’t be able to race motorcycles again, he had another option. Ironically, if not for his experience with motorcycles, it would not have been possible.
Early in Johnson’s recovery, his father bought a go-kart and procured a set of hand controls originally developed for Zanardi by CRG. On Christmas Eve, 2006, Johnson drove the kart for the first time around the parking lot of his father’s paint-coating business near Flint, Michigan.
Johnson says his experience with motorcycles helped him adapt to hand controls. “It’s not too different, since I had to use my hands for the clutch and throttle on the bike,” he says. “I can feel some parts of the kart, but I can’t feel the front when it starts to push. I have to get extra seat time in the kart, and then I usually figure things out.”
Johnson has since used his modified car to rise up the racing circuit to the USF2000, where he hopes to spend one more year before moving up to Indy Lights. From there, he’ll be on the cusp of achieving his Indy 500 dreams.
Take a moment to watch Johnson’s inspirational story, via Jalopnik: