MCMURRAY SET TO VISIT DEVASTATION
Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com
Jamie McMurray will get escorted into his hometown of Joplin, Mo., Thursday by the mayor and the chief of police.
But it won't exactly be a hero's return or any kind of a joyful event for McMurray -- a standout Sprint Cup driver and winner of the 2010 Daytona 500.
Joplin was probably best known as McMurray's hometown until a twister that to date accounts for around 140 lives lost struck on May 22.
On the eve of last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, McMurray took stock of his feelings, where a lot of his attention had been and how the plan for Thursday's trip had come together.
"I probably had some friends ask [me] about coming -- but I wanted to go there," McMurray said. "It's really hard for me to explain. This doesn't happen to very many people. There's something special about your hometown. It's just hard to explain.
"I wanted to go there on my own and just see everything. I've been glued to the TV for the last six days [prior to last Sunday] just watching everything and trying to remember what things looked like before. So, I want to go there and see it for myself."
He'll take the opportunity on his way to this weekend's event at Kansas Speedway, in conjunction with an event at Bass Pro Shops, his car's primary sponsor, about 70 miles away from Joplin in Springfield, Mo.
McMurray's last visit to Joplin was "four or five years ago." He left the town at age 20 as his racing career developed and he's been joined in North Carolina by the remainder of his family that formerly lived in the community of about 50,000 people in southwest Missouri.
"I do have a lot of friends still there," McMurray said. "But like most of us, I probably haven't stayed as close to friends of my hometown as I would have liked to have."
McMurray, who for a time was an avid user of Twitter and who said he'd recently joined Facebook, said social media had connected him with some old friends.
The tragedy even caused an impromptu connection with a former sponsor from the time when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing.
"I don't know if you remember Irwin [Tools] or not; they were partnered with Roush," McMurray said. "They actually sent 250 pairs of gloves just the other day. I had a friend call and say what they needed immediately were gloves to help with the search and rescue. So Irwin was nice enough to send them some gloves.
"But all the sponsors: Coke, McDonald's and everybody has actually come to me. Initially I was like, 'Gosh, I'm going to call these people and see if they'll do something to help raise some money.' Everyone that's involved with our NASCAR program, whether it's sponsors or team owners or crew guys, all came to me before I could get to them asking for ways they could help.
"So I thought that was really cool for our community to try and give back to them."
Johnny Morris, the head of Bass Pro Shops, gave up part of the signage on McMurray's car last weekend at Charlotte to display a message for Convoy of Hope, a relief agency that is involved in helping those affected.
McMurray's first stop Thursday will be at Bass Pro's headquarters, where a daylong festival and fundraiser is scheduled, featuring food and musical entertainment.
From Springfield, McMurray will travel to Joplin where he'll be met at a local airstrip before heading to the Convoy of Hope distribution center. He'll spend some time there before being taken on a guided tour of the destroyed town, including his childhood home -- which was leveled -- as well as his high school and St. John's Regional Medical Center, which were both badly damaged.
"I was fortunate that the mayor and the chief of police -- you know, you can't get everywhere," McMurray said. "You can't just go back to your home, I don't believe, right now. So they're actually going to give me a tour of everything and let me look at all of it."
McMurray expects a stark view of his former home area.
"I had friends send me pictures of the neighborhood that I grew up in, and it's gone," McMurray said. "They sent me pictures and I had a friend actually send pictures of my house through text messages, and I didn't even know what he had sent me. I did figure it out because the only part left of my house was actually the address left on the front wall.
"But when you look at the pictures of the house, there's no background. There are no trees or homes or landmarks in the background to define what you're looking at. So, really, the tornado took the whole neighborhood out."
More than anything, McMurray said the recent event -- and everything he's witnessed from afar, since then -- will have a profound effect on him for some time.
"Joplin will always be my hometown and I've got, I don't know, maybe it's a different outlook now," McMurray said. "But when we go do fundraisers -- certainly I'm still going to do a lot with autism -- but I think for a long time it will be about Joplin and trying to get the city back where it was.
"I had a friend who lives there tell me that Joplin would recover; he just didn't know if it would recover in our lifetime. He said the trees that are down and the amount of building -- that it's just going to take a really long time to rebuild all this.
"So there will be a big effort on my part over the years to come to help with the hospital and school and the families that have lost everything. Joplin is just home to me. When I think about the school and racing at the go-kart track there in Joplin, I just can't imagine it any other way because that's the way it was."