Jimmie Johnson was simply heartbroken. He saw the damaged neighborhoods, destroyed homes, fallen trees and tons of debris in tornado-ravaged Oklahoma.
It was the stuffed animals that really choked up the five-time Sprint Cup champion.
”There’s a kid involved. Kids lived here and families and people, and it kind of brings a human element in,” Johnson said. ”You start jockeying back and forth in your mind at just the amazement of these big items. You can’t imagine them blowing around like they’re scraps, to the human element of a stuffed animal.”
Johnson spent Thursday in Moore, Okla., to help distribute supplies to victims of the May 20 tornado that killed 24 people, including 10 children. He was accompanied by his wife, Chani, a native of Muskogee. The visit was in conjunction with Johnson’s sponsor, Lowe’s, and the Feed the Children initiative.
”I met a child who was in one of those schools and I could still see on his face and in his eyes the fear that he had and he still looked like that today,” Johnson said Friday at Dover International Speedway. ”It really hits you deep to meet the people, see the damage and, in some ways, kind of imagine in your mind what they went through.”
Johnson, who leads the Cup standings, filmed a public service announcement for a benefit concert hosted by country star Blake Shelton. He also reached out to Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops about finding other ways to help. Johnson pledged to donate his winnings from Sunday’s race at Dover to tornado recovery efforts; he has already donated his All-Star race winnings – about $1 million – to relief efforts.
Johnson’s foundation each year also donates to school projects in Oklahoma, along with California and Charlotte, N.C., where he currently lives. He expected the foundation to assist in this case, possibly to help build more storm shelters. NASCAR President Mike Helton, team owner Rick Hendrick and Sooners football players joined the Johnsons in passing out supplies and food at a Lowe’s in Moore.
”Everyone we met was so thankful for the support and talked about how many supplies have been brought in and how many people have come from other states and just showed-up and put food and drink on the street corners in different areas,” he said.
Donations have poured in to Oklahoma since the two tornadoes ripped through the state, killing 26 in all and affecting nearly 4,000 homes, businesses and other buildings in five counties.
”Everyone says that television doesn’t do it justice,” he said. ”We were able to go in person and see the damage and what a tornado can do. Man, it really got my attention.”