By Mike Brudenell
Detroit Free Press Sports Writer Click for Original Article
Michael Johnson dreams of running in the Indianapolis 500. If commitment and dedication count, the 20-year-old from Mt. Morris is a shoo-in.
Tuesday at the Detroit Yacht Club, Johnson sat in his wheelchair, talking to motorsports legend Mel Kenyon — “the King of the Midgets” — at a Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association luncheon.
Just a couple of tables away were NASCAR greats and Alabama Gang members Bobby and Donnie Allison, who are in town for the 25th annual Motorsports Hall of Fame of America induction ceremony tonight at the Fillmore in Detroit.
Johnson, who will be at the ceremony along with Kenyon, was paralyzed from the midchest down in a dirt-track motorcycle racing accident in Sarnia when he was 12.Kenyon, 80, lost most of the fingers on his left hand in a fiery midget-racing crash in 1965.
Johnson, through extensive therapy and the use of special hand controls, is making a name for himself in the USF2000 Championship, an open-wheel feeder series to IZOD IndyCar.
Kenyon, who designed a special glove to allow him to return to racing, long ago stopped counting his victories and hung up his helmet just three years ago, at his wife’s insistence.
“It’s just amazing being here,” Johnson said of the chance to meet Kenyon, who overcame a major handicap to race again, a feat Johnson is repeating. “It’s fun to get to know people like Mel Kenyon and share in their experiences.”
The luncheon was the kickoff to tonight’s Fillmore gala, where Robert E. Petersen (at large), Bud Moore (stock cars), Masten Gregory (sports cars), Brad Lackey (motorcycles), Harvey Firestone (historic), Jack Chrisman (drag racing) and Alex Zanardi (open wheel) will be the latest class to enter the Hall of Fame.
Kenyon, who was inducted into the Hall in 2003, had plenty of encouragement for Johnson, who will step up the ladder to the Pro Mazda Championship in 2014.
“I told him, ‘The one thing you have to do is except what life has dealt you and go on with it,’ ” Kenyon said. “He seems like a great kid.”
Bobby Allison, a three-time Daytona 500 champion who won the Sprint Cup title in 1983, was voted into the Hall in 1992, while Donnie, a 10-time Cup race winner, made it in 2011.
Bobby said of Moore, an early NASCAR team owner and highly decorated World War II serviceman: “I drove for Bud for three years, and I should have stayed with him. He is a great American and wonderful team owner. He was a pioneer in stock car racing.”