Off track, however, Johnson’s story is a bit different than his 32 other rivals. A former motorcycle racer, Johnson was paralyzed from the mid-chest down following a dirt-track crash in 2005.
Despite this setback, Johnson never considered choosing another career. Since his accident, the Michigan resident has racked up “Driver of the Year” honors and series championships in karting competition, and has done well enough in Skip Barber Formula series racing to advance on to the USF2000 series.
If all goes as planned, Johnson will graduate from F2000 to the Star Mazda Series, then on to the Firestone Indy Lights series. Win the championship in Indy Lights, and a ride in the IndyCar series is all but guaranteed.
Johnson wouldn’t be the first driver in IndyCar with special needs, either. Charlie Kimball, who currently drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, is a Type I diabetic who relies on wireless monitoring of his blood sugar level to ensure safe competition. Kimball carries sugar water in the cockpit in case his blood sugar begins to drop during a race.
Before he can move on to the next series, Johnson faces some stiff competition in USF2000, where he’s currently ranked 21st in points. That makes it unlikely he’ll graduate to Star Mazda after his first season, pushing back his dream of racing in the Indy 500 to 2016 or 2017 at the earliest.
Johnson is young enough that a four or five year wait is still no big deal. Given his determination, we have no doubt he’ll find a way to make the 33-car field.