Paralyzed driver Michael Johnson makes sports car debut this weekend

Church and Johnson. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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One of the more interesting stories this weekend in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca comes with the debut of Michael Johnson, who’s paralyzed from the waist down, but races with modified cars.

The new No. 54 Universal Coating BMW 228i Johnson will race this weekend will premiere in the Continental Tire Challenge ST class.

The ex-Mazda Road to Indy driver and INDYCAR’s only licensed paralyzed driver shifts over to make his sports car debut with JDC/Miller Motorsports and co-driver Stephen Simpson, who will pull double duty this weekend between JDC/Miller’s BMW and its Oreca FLM09 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Johnson has been paralyzed since being injured in a motorcycle race at age 12.

“I’m super excited that it’s finally coming together,” said Johnson, a 23-year-old resident of Flint, Michigan. “I spent time with Stephen Simpson following his recent victory at Long Beach, and the team has a lot of good mojo going into the race.

“It’s fun to get back on the racetrack – my last race was last year at Mazda Raceway in Pro Mazda. It’s a fun track, and I always like going there.”

His race car is specially equipped with hand controls, provided by GuidoSimplex. Because Johnson is paralyzed from the waist down, his car has a complicated brake, gearshift and throttle system. The special hand-controls on the former motorcycle racing champion’s car had to be perfected and he had to travel to Spain to test them.

“Johnson’s more than ready,” said team owner John Church. “He is a relentless competitor and he ups everyone’s game, when he’s competing. He’s an important part of this team and we can’t wait to get him on the track at Laguna.”