Jimmie Johnson helps dedicate school gyms devastated in Oklahoma tornado


Jimmie Johnson isn’t just a six-time and the defending Sprint Cup champion. He’s also one of the most philanthropic drivers in NASCAR.

On his way to this weekend’s Chase race at Kansas Speedway, Johnson detoured through Oklahoma, where he dedicated one of three school gymnasiums that were destroyed or heavily damaged by the monster tornado that devastated much of Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2013.

The tornado and the resulting widespread damage touched Johnson so much, particularly since wife Chandra is from Muskogee, Okla.

That’s why The Jimmie Johnson Foundation, in partnership with primary sponsor Lowe’s Home Improvement stores, contributed more than $1 million to rebuild the gyms at Highland East Junior High, as well as Briarwood and Plaza Towers elementary schools.

Within days of the tornado, Johnson and his wife toured the area and spent several days helping in the relief effort.

“It’s just mind-blowing, and frightening,” Johnson told The Oklahoman newspaper about his reaction when he first saw the widespread devastation.

But from tragedy came a resiliency in the community, and Johnson returned to Moore earlier this week to see the fruits of the rebuilding projects on the gyms.

There’s so much a gymnasium does for a school,” Johnson said. “School dances, assemblies, basketball, volleyball. … I’m proud of our involvement.”

Added Dr. Robert Romines, superintendent of Moore Public Schools, “We’re extremely grateful to Lowe’s and the Jimmie Johnson Foundation for the generous donations to help us rebuild these gyms for nearly 1,600 students this year and for all those in the years to come. Without their donations, the school district would not have been able to complete these projects.”

Perhaps Highland East eighth-grader Drew Johnson put it best when interviewed by The Oklahoman.

“Now we can have games here again,” Johnson said. “Last year they were all away games. We always had to go to other places, and I think it’ll be nice to have home games.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski