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Life of Marcus Johnson, teen who loved racing, to be celebrated Sunday

Marcus Johnson

COURTESY PHOTO
Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 7:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 12:21 p.m.

Marcus Josef Johnson started racing 5-horsepower go-karts at age 5 and in nine years won more than 200 races and four championships, working his way up to karts powered by 500 cubic centimeter engines.

Johnson, a 14-year-old student at Rincon Valley Middle School in Santa Rosa, longed to race faster still.

"His dream of all dreams" was to drive a Ferrari Formula One race car at 200 mph on tracks around the world, said his father, Rob Johnson of Santa Rosa.

Marcus, also a dedicated basketball player, was killed Saturday in a freak accident at an oval dirt racetrack in Marysville.

A sprint car driven by his cousin went out of control and flew off the track at high speed, striking and killing Johnson and race-car owner Dale Richard Wondergem, Jr., 68, as they walked through the pit area 200 feet from the track.

Hundreds of people are expected to attend a celebration of Marcus Johnson's life at 2 p.m. Sunday at Santa Rosa Bible Church, 4575 Badger Road, Santa Rosa.

Johnson was a seventh-generation member of a pioneer Sonoma County family with about 30 members living in the area, Rob Johnson said.

The boy's grandmother, Judy Johnson, lives on an Alexander Valley ranch purchased from the original settler, Cyrus Alexander, in the 1800s.

An eighth-grader at Rincon Valley, Johnson played basketball there and at the North Bay Basketball Academy, "where you could usually find him the last guy on the court still giving 110 percent until it was time to turn off the lights," his father said.

Hitting the books hard, as well, Johnson spent up to two hours a night on homework, qualifying for his school's honor society with a 3.5 academic average. Art and math were his favorite subjects; English and history were challenges.

The family rule was that homework had to be done before Johnson and his brother Hayden, a fourth-grader, could lace up their sneakers and rush down the front steps to meet their father, arriving home from work, for basketball games in the cul de sac in front of their home south of Doyle Park.

Typically, it was Marcus vs. Hayden and their father, and Marcus would win about one-third of the time. "They were always close games," Rob Johnson said. "A lot of fun."

Gina Johnson said her son was known for his buoyant spirit, contagious smile, good humor and "his sparkling crystal blue eyes that could light up any room."

Marcus was "a role model in every way" for his brother and "will forever be remembered for his heart of gold," she said.

A few weeks ago, Johnson told his father about a student at the Rincon Valley school who showed great prowess in lunchtime basketball games. When Johnson asked the boy why he wasn't playing on the school team, the boy said his family could not afford playing shoes.

"That really touched Marcus," his father said.

As a result, some of the donations to the Marcus Johnson Memorial Fund will be used to help local youths who cannot pay for school or youth league sports.

Memorial donations may be made to the fund at First Community Bank, 438 First St., Santa Rosa.

Survivors, in addition to his parents, brother and grandmother, are a grandfather, Joe Dzajkich of Upland; grandparents Bob and Dolly Johnson of Santa Rosa; great-grandparents Frank and Millie Johnson of Santa Rosa; and numerous aunts and uncles, cousins and great-aunts and uncles.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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