ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Paralyzed race car driver. It’s an oxymoron that Michael Johnson uses as an opportunity to educate.
“When you have an injury like this there are people and resources out there to help you live the life you want to live,” said Johnson, who uses hand controls to drive the JDC MotorSports car in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. “That’s what I’m trying to get out there and having a lot of fun doing it.”
Johnson, who is paralyzed from the mid-chest down because of a broken back suffered in a motorcycle race on Aug. 13, 2005, when he was 12 years old, made a new fan in four-time Indianapolis 500 champion A.J. Foyt. They met – along with Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Takuma Sato and Martin Plowman – at the A.J. Foyt Racing transporter as part of an event with the non-profit organization Wheelchairs 4 Kids.
“It’s twice as hard for him to compete as the others,” said Foyt, who’s been involved in quite a few racing incidents of his own during a four-decade career. “His desire to do that says a hell of a lot. I wish him all the luck in the world.”
A specialized steering wheel (he uses a lever on the left side of the steering wheel to accelerate) and braking system (pushing against the steering wheel) allows Johnson to compete against other professionals on the middle rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. He was fourth on the time sheet in the first practice session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.
“(Foyt’s) been in the world of motorsports for a long time and knows what it takes and what kind of obstacles drivers deal with and what kind of accidents can happen,” Johnson said. “I’m really proud to have this opportunity to be where I’m at right now with the technology and show what I have. I think it’s going to keep evolving from here. “
Johnson, of Flint, Mich., and JDC MotorSports will support Wheelchairs 4 Kids during the entire season with the organization’s logo on the No. 54 car.
Stewards in the round
Verizon IndyCar Series race director Beaux Barfield won't be solely charged with penalty decisions this season. According to the series rulebook, there will be three stewards (for the season opener it's Barfield, Brian Barnhart and Johnny Unser) in Race Control. Any one of them can call for a review of replays and car data, which is followed by a vote.
The senior steward will determine the severity of the infraction and issue a corresponding penalty if warranted.
INDYCAR president of competition and operations Derrick Walks said he's proposed a rotation of stewards for the 2015 season.
Former Indy car driver and current ABC Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Scott Goodyear will be the first motorsports athlete to be inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. He's already a member of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame. ... If you traveled in a Verizon IndyCar Series car at race speed on the St. Pete circuit across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanning Tampa Bay (4.1 miles), the right-rear street course tire would rotate 2,953 times in the 2-minute, 25-second drive. ... Firestone has supplied the same street course tire compound as 2013 for the St. Pete race. ... Purdue University president and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took in the sights and sounds of the practice day.