The family of John Wes Townley has elected to hold a private funeral service at a later date as they continue to grieve over the death of the former NASCAR driver and the son of Zaxby's co-founder Tony Townley. John Wes, who competed in NASCAR from 2008 to 2016, was shot to death last Saturday in a domestic violence incident at a residence in Athens, Georgia.
Townley, who had 186 starts across the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series as well as 58 starts in the ARCA Menards Series, was killed in a violent incident in the Five Points area of Athens that involved his ex-wife Laura Townley and a 32-year old man named Zachary Anderson at a Morton Avenue residence. According to a report by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Townley arrived at the residence and allegedly attacked Laura and Anderson with a hatchet when Anderson fired several shots from his gun that struck Townley in the chest.
Townley was later transported a local hospital where he died from his injuries. The shots from Anderson's gun also struck Laura Townley, who suffered serious injuries but is expected to survive. As of Friday Oct. 8, Anderson has not been charged.
Townley, who died at the age of 31, was supported throughout his racing career by his family's chain of fast casual chicken restaurants. In addition to serving as his sponsor for much of his career, Tony Townley also served as the listed owner of Athenian Motorsports, which fielded cars and trucks for his son from 2014 to 2016.
"My wife Carol Ann and I are brokenhearted by the tragedy involving the Townley family," read a statement by Zach McLeroy, Zaxby's CEO and co-founder of the company alongside Townley. "We are praying for all of those impacted by these events and hope you'll respect the privacy of each of the families involved."
The fatal shooting involving Townley came only a week after his divorce from Laura Townley had been finalized. According to a report by Joe Johnson of Classic City News, John Wes Townley and Laura Townley had married in October of 2018, but John Wes filed for divorce in February of this year on the grounds that the couple's marriage was "irretrievably broken." John Wes Townley's driver's license had the same Morton Avenue address where Laura Townley was residing, but he had reportedly been living with his parents in Oconee County.
There had been a history of domestic violence in the Townley marriage. As noted in a report by Fletcher Page of the Athens Banner-Herald, John Wes Townley was charged with three misdemeanor counts including family violence battery after a 2019 incident in which he allegedly threw his wife to the floor and "placed her in reasonable fear of the safety of her life." Townley pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 12 months probation.
In his early career, Townley became a laughingstock as his frequent crashes and poor performance made him a poster child for rich young drivers buying rides with family money and proceeding to squander them due to lack of skill. Despite that, Townley ended up developing into a capable driver, and he would receive the ultimate payoff for his perseverance when he scored his first and only Truck Series victory at Las Vegas in 2015. Townley also won the ARCA race at Daytona twice, first in 2013 and then again in 2016, and had a career-best finish of eighth in the Truck Series standings in 2015.
Townley was remembered by his own family not only for his racing career, but also for his skills as a self-taught pianist and snowboarder as well as a lover of pets that adopted "countless" cats and dogs during his life. The family has requested that those wishing to honor John Wes do so by either adopting a pet from or making a financial donation to the Oconee County Animal Shelter, which he fostered several animals from.