NASCAR's McMurray visits tornado-ravaged hometown

By CHRIS JENKINS | June 2, 2011 | 10:28 PM EDT

NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray hugs his former neighbor Linda Harbaugh-Mahurin Thursday, June 2, 2011 in Joplin, Mo. McMurray, who grew up in Joplin, is working with Convoy of Hope to help families affected by the tornado. (AP Photo/Mike Gullett)

NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray returned to his boyhood home — or at least to the spot where it used to stand. Like much of tornado-ravaged Joplin, it didn't look anything like the place where he grew up.

McMurray visited the devastated southwest Missouri town Thursday, hoping to lift the spirits of residents trying to put their lives back together and raise awareness of ongoing needs in the area.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, McMurray says he was stunned by the level of destruction and heartbreaking stories of lost lives, but inspired by the large number of volunteers who drove in from across the country to help with relief efforts.

Missouri officials said Thursday that the death toll from the May 22 tornado has risen to 138 people.