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Johnson moved by visit to Moore
For Jimmie Johnson, the tornado that hit Moore, Okla., on May 20 was a little too close to home.
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Johnson’s wife Chandra grew up in Muskogee, Okla., about two hours to the east of the hard-hit area. But before Johnson witnessed on Thursday the devastation of the EF5 tornado, he had already earmarked his winnings from last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 to disaster relief.
After touring the site's remains, the five-time Sprint Cup champ acknowledged he was “shocked and floored” by what he saw.
“Everyone says that television doesn’t do it justice and we were able to go in person and see the damage and what a tornado can do,” Johnson said. “Man, it really got my attention.
“To meet people who were in their homes; I met a child that 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. It really hits you deep to meet the people, see the damage and some ways kind of imagine in your mind what they went through.”
While the Jimmie Johnson Foundation generally focuses on children’s charities, the driver relied on his associations within the area to ascertain the “immediate demands.” Johnson had a better idea of where to distribute the funds after Thursday’s visit to the Lowe’s store in Moore to dispense relief supplies.
"I have some great friends in the area that have a very good pulse on where the demands are and where the immediate demands are," Johnson said. "(Football coach) Bob Stoops from the University of Oklahoma has been great for me (plus) Lowe’s and their representatives in the area . . . I really feel like something will come to us.
“Really, when we were there, 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. Like Lowe’s was a base camp essentially, for people to come to and charge cell phones and get phones and food and drink.
"Obviously, inside the store there (are) cleaning supplies and that stuff. So, I think as the next month develops there will be a cause that really stands out to us.”
Lowe’s, Johnson’s sponsor on the No. 48 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chevrolet, matched the driver’s contribution of his 600 winnings and donated an additional $500,000 to the American Red Cross.
As Johnson returns to Dover International Speedway this weekend — a track where he leads all current drivers with seven victories — he realizes facing the Monster Mile can’t compare to the catastrophes that have hit the area known as Tornado Alley this spring.
“I grew up where the ground shook in Southern California (with earthquakes) and was always petrified of tornadoes,” Johnson said. “Marrying Chani and being in the beltway for tornadoes, I’m scared every time we go home to visit. We had to leave yesterday and get out of there as fast as we could because one was coming, or storms were coming, and there ended up being a couple.
“And it was odd because I got on the plane to fly out and I’m leaving my family behind. They’re staying there with Chani’s parents this weekend. So I’m like ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m so torn because there’s something bad coming but I’m leaving my girls behind.'”