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When John Wes Townley, the son of Zaxby’s co-founder Tony Townley, won the Rhino Linings 350 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2015, the first thing he did when he got home was pay a visit to his grandfather, Harold, with trophy in hand.

“Tears were flowing,” said close friend Jeff Hood, who has known the professional racer since he was racinggo-karts at the age of 9  

“For 17 years, I accompanied John Wes Townley to race tracks throughout the United States and Canada,” said Hood. “Behind the scenes, [he] was a caring, tender-hearted, compassionate person. That’s how I’ll always remember him.” 

On Saturday, Townley, 31, was shot and killed by Zachary Anderson, 32, after Townley entered the home of his ex-wife, Laura, in Five Points, Athens, and came at Anderson with a hatchet, according to the police report. Laura was also struck by gunfire and was hospitalized with serious but non-life threatening injuries. Athens-Clarke County Police have characterized her injuries as accidental. 

Townley was living in Oconee County at the time of his death.

Townley raced for nearly a decade and had two major victories in the ARCA series in Daytona in 2013 and 2016. He specialized in the NASCAR truck series and earned 24 top 10 finishes.

“You would not find a better human being,” said former NASCAR driver Terry Cook, who described a memory he cherishes of Townley helping a homeless person. “He was a good, kind-hearted man.” 

Hood said he was first introduced to Townley by a mutual friend, Ben Bridges, who had the privilege of interviewing Townley on the radio.

“He was a great guy, and he was a heck of a driver,” said Bridges. “We’d always be watching him on TV, cheering him on.” 

In addition to the jubilation of racing, Townley was a phenomenal, self-taught piano player, said Hood. One day after a race, Townley sat down at a Baby Grand piano in a hotel lobby and people surrounded him, marveling at his performance. Hood said it was like seeing Liberace play. 

Friend Kevin Reed said he remembers Townley standing on a tire in a car shop, playing tunes on his guitar. 

Townley always loved his hometown and was a proud graduate of North Oconee High School’s second graduating class, said Hood. 

For more on this story, see the Oct. 7 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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