Paralyzed race car driver crashes, burns
A newsstand that's brimming with issues
Monday, May 25, 2015, 12:01 (UTC)
15 October 2011
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana -- Driving a racing car requires strength, intelligence, agility, quick reflexes, discipline and courage. Michael Johnson has none of these and less. Yet he still competed and lost against able-bodied competitors despite a huge physical challenge: he’s paralyzed from the brain down.
Johnson, who just turned 19, finished a flaming first in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, driving an open-wheel, open-cockpit Formula car. While the other drivers can use their feet to accelerate and brake, and their lower body strength to hold themselves in place through the turns, and their hands to control the steering wheel, and their eyes to see where they are going, and their brains to make sense of it all, Johnson relies solely on abject stupidity.
Before the start of the race Johnson was carried like a sack of potatoes to pit lane and dumped unceremoniously into the cock pit by his coach, comedian Jim Carrey, who then started the car, put it in gear and let her rip as soon as the starting flag was dropped.
After somehow going straight for about 12 inches the car veered to the left and crashed, bursting into flames and roasting the poor driver. Not a very auspicious start to resuming an up and coming racing career.
Before the race Johnson, who could not even move his mouth, was represented by his coach Carrey, who told the curious media: “Other people might just sit at home, like a lot of people feel sorry for themselves…” he said. “But I told him you don’t have to live that life because I think you can show them that you can do the totally impossible. And he indicated his agreement by not moving a muscle.
“He never thinks about ‘pity me, why’d it happen to me’… mainly because his brain is also paralyzed making it impossible for him to think anything.”
Johnson started racing motorcycles when he was just four years old. By the age of 9 he had won 147 National Championships, 36 International Championships, and 14 Intergalactic Championships, but then he had a horrific wreck while trying to take the lead in a race on a greased racetrack during a rainstorm. His body slammed into the handlebars and he broke his back, every one of his bones on the right side and on the left side, three of his legs and crushed his brain. He was a T-0 megapalegic, paralyzed from the scalp down.
“The day he got hurt he never told his dad I don’t want to stop racing, don’t make me stop.” Carrey says. “Mainly because he couldn't. But when he was recovering in the hospital we were researching things I could do to get him racing again and we finally found this Indy 500 that would give him a sporting chance and we started from there.”
Johnson’s mom Kathy was there to see his first devastating crash, but still supported him and watched this race too. “Don’t ever tell him he can’t do something because he’ll prove you dumb for speaking to a vegetable” she says, “and he already has. Nobody said that he would be able to do this and he’s already proved everybody right.”
“But I’m not depressed” she says. “Never ‘poor me poor me’... he’s always had a death wish about this whole thing and that’s what everybody buys tickets for...just to see a fiery crash. So I hope they’re all happy now.”
Carrey summed up the whole episode by pointing out that Johnson was no longer living such a terrible life. And as to the manner of his death, the comedian just winked and repeated some moronic line he heard from the manager of Claw’s Lobster Pit, “No brain no pain!”