Young man passionate about go karting, hopes to be a pro one day

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Since Matt Kenseth's NASCAR career has grown, Wisconsin has been producing more and more successful race car drivers. One not only tears up the track, but inspires people with his amazing story.

"Nothing is like being in a go-kart. You're out in the open. You're one-inch off the ground -- hitting speeds of sometimes over 100 miles-per-hour," Ben Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt likes to drive fast, and that's no surprise since he's 16 years old!

However, what makes Leonhardt special are the speed bumps life put in front of him. He was born with not one, but eight different birth defects, causing him to have almost 30 surgeries and procedures.

"Most of them were on my heart. My most recent one was on my spine. I had scoliosis and I actually flat-lined in it. I had to get resuscitated, and four years to the exact day I won my first race," Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt recovered from that last surgery by watching every race he could for the week he was in the hospital. When it was time to go home, he talked his parents into letting him get behind the wheel.

"At first we weren't too sure about it because of the anomalies he was born with and all the surgeries he's had, but I'll be damned if he's not racing. He's always studying racing. The week before a race he's on the laptop watching," Ed Leonhardt said.

Now, Leonhardt is preparing for Daytona Kart Week next month. He will be racing against go kart drivers from all over the country on the same track used in the Daytona 500.

But Leonhardt isn't just racing for the big trophies.

"We pray before every race. Everything is always dedicated to God. It's not for us -- it's for Him, and we minister to people at the track and stuff," Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt's faith is what doesn't let any of his birth defects stop him.

He wears a platform shoe on his right foot because his right leg is shorter than his left. He also can't bend his ankle, so he has to use his knee to press his foot down on the gas.

Leonhardt encourages others facing obstacles to get a hold of the wheel and drive.

"Don't ever give up on what you want to do. If you want to do something and you're really passionate about it, don't stop at anything to do it," Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt won't be stopping at go karting. His dream is to chase the Sprint Cup like his idol, Jimmy Johnson.

"He's a very humble person, nice guy and that's how I want to be -- nicer and represent the sport more," Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt's dad has no doubts his son will get there.

"Ben has always been driven. He's told us that he will be a professional racer someday. When we asked him if he had a Plan B, he said 'Plan B? I don't need a Plan B. I will be a professional racer,'" Ed Leonhardt said.

Leonhardt's mom says Ben's health issues inspired her to become a nurse, and she now works at the Milwaukee VA Hospital.


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