Henry Ford nurse gets surprise virtual meet-and-greet with NASCAR's Jimmie Johnson

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michael Palmer, a nurse at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, was momentarily at a loss while appearing Wednesday on Mike Tirico’s online NBS Sports “Lunch Talk”.

Palmer, who has been working shifts during the COVID-19 pandemic and has another Wednesday night at Henry Ford, is a big NASCAR fan, particularly of seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson. As Tirico, the show host based in Ann Arbor was wrapping up the segment with Palmer, he said there was one more thing.

That’s when Johnson appeared on screen.

Henry Ford nurse Michael Palmer, right, with NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Palmer said, looking incredulous.

Johnson jumped in.

“Thank you, Michael,” Johnson said. “You are such an inspiration to all of us. I just can’t imagine what you and your family are dealing with. I’m glad through my journey as a race car driver and my values I’ve been able to inspire yourself and you’ve had something to connect with, but now it’s flipped and you’re inspiring all of us. Thank you for being on the front lines. I can’t thank you enough.”

A photograph of Palmer, his 9-year-old son, Mikey,  and Johnson taken at Homestead-Miami Speedway appeared onscreen and they laughed that his son was wearing a Kyle Busch T-shirt that day. Palmer shared that he took his son to his first race in 2017 for the Father’s Day NASCAR race weekend at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn and that’s where they had an unforgettable meeting with Johnson.

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“It’s definitely been tough,” Palmer said to Johnson of working during this world health crisis. “My son and I have looked up to you for so long. You did one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen anybody do at his first ever race he came to with me was on Father’s Day in 2017 at Michigan.

“He went up to you to try to get a picture and he kinda got lost in the crowd and you actually went back and got him and brought him forward and told everyone to kinda step aside so he can get a picture with his biggest fan there. I’m glad I had sunglasses on when I took that because I definitely teared up a little bit.”

Johnson said because he fell in love with racing when he was a kid and looked up to the drivers then, he is especially cognizant of kids at the races and likes to oblige their requests.

“I’m just blown away by this,” said Palmer, who in an NBC Sports story said he has No. 48 — Johnson's number — written on his hospital mask and on face shield. “I have to work a midnight shift tonight and I’ll be showing everyone this. It’s a dream come true.”

Johnson then invited Palmer and his family to a race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, an all-expenses-paid trip that will include Palmer working as an honorary pit crew member. Driver Kevin Harvick, also a favorite of Palmers, also will be part of the VIP weekend.

“I’m so humbled and honored by this,” Palmer said. “I’m beyond grateful. My heart is so full right now.”


Twitter: @chengelis