Mid-Michigan paralyzed racer wants to get back on the track

Published: Apr. 21, 2015 at 6:05 PM EDT
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(04/21/15) - A Mid-Michigan man has overcome tremendous hurdles to drive race cars. Now he faces another large obstacle before he can accomplish a very special goal.

Michael Johnson lives in Mt. Morris Township. When he was 12, he became paralyzed during a motorcycle race. Being a wheelchair user doesn't keep him out of race cars.

On March 27, Johnson was practicing for a race in Florida when he hit a wall in Turn 3.

"I think something broke on the front suspension that allowed it to turn," Johnson said.

The wreck left him with a concussion and lung and eye trauma.

"I broke my left pelvis and my left femur," he said.

He has no memory of the crash or the week that followed in the hospital.

"I remember the day before and then I remember waking up in the hospital. It's about the only thing I remember," Johnson said.

He loves open wheel racing like that of the Pro-Mazda series. The cars he drive are capable of doing 160 miles an hour. He competes even though he can't use feet. His car is equipped with hand controls.

"The way I brake is I push in on the steering wheel. The throttle is a paddle on the left side for my hand. The shifting is a paddle on the right side of the steering wheel. The clutch is a lever by my right knee," he said.

The accident has not diminished his determination.

"When I'm out there, I can't think about crashes or anything like that. I've got to focus on what my job is, driving and winning," Johnson said.

He'll have to re-test and prove he's ready to race. Eventually he hopes to line up with 32 other drivers on a two and a half mile course in Indianapolis.

"That's my goal. I'm not sure how long it's going to take. I'd like to make it to the 500 and run a full season of Indy cars," Johnson said.