Two-Time Indy 500 Starter Herm Johnson Dies

Herm Johnson
Herm Johnson and his 1982 Indianapolis 500 entry that carried him to a ninth-place finish. (IMS Archives Photo)

Herm Johnson, a two-time Indianapolis 500 starter, died Saturday after suffering from liver and renal failure. He was 63 years old.

A native of Eau Claire, Wis., he won the Formula SuperVee title during the SCCA National Championship Runoffs in 1976 before turning his attention to Indy cars. He followed that up by winning the 1977 USAC Mini Indy Series championship, a precursor to the Indy Lights series of today.

He made his CART debut in 1979 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and attempted the Indianapolis 500 in 1980 and 1981, but failed to qualify.

He finally qualified for the Indianapolis 500 in 1982 in an Eagle-Chevrolet with sponsorship from the same Menards chain of home improvement stores that is still involved in the sport to this day, starting ninth and finishing 14th.

He failed to qualify again in 1983, but returned in 1984 with a stout March-Chevrolet to again qualify ninth. He backed the qualifying effort up with an eighth-place finish.

Johnson would never again qualify for the Indianapolis 500. His career was cut short during practice for the 1986 Indianapolis 500 when he crashed his March-Cosworth and suffered a broken back and legs. With no other option, Johnson retired from racing.

He remained involved in the sport as a helmet designer and instructor at Brainerd Int’l Raceway in Minnesota. He continued to frequent Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was on hand for many Indianapolis 500s.