A former NASCAR driver has been killed and his estranged wife injured after he went to a house with an axe before being shot dead, according to a report.
John Wes Townley, 31, was shot just before 9pm on Saturday in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points area of Athens.
The house was occupied by Townley’s estranged wife, Laura, and a 32-year-old Dunwoody man, according to local site Classic City News.
Townley, the report claimed, entered the property armed with an axe and the unidentified man is then reported to have shot him, accidentally hitting Laura Townley with gunfire in the process.
The ex-race driver, who is the son of the millionaire co-founder of fried chicken chain Zaxby’s, was rushed to hospital and later died of his injuries.
Laura Townley remains in a ‘serious’ condition.
Court records state that the Townleys, who were married in October 2018, filed for divorce on February 3 of this year.
The pair were living apart and their ‘marriage was irretrievably broken,’ Classic City News reported.
John Wes Townley, 31, was shot just before 9pm on Saturday in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points area of Athens. Townley raced eight seasons and made 186 starts across the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series, NASCAR’s lower two national divisions (pictured: at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida in July 2014)
Townley married nurse Laura Townley in 2018 after the pair met through dating app ‘Match.’ The couple had recently filed for divorce
Townley married nurse Laura Townley from Florence, South Carolina, in 2018 after the pair met through dating app ‘Match’ (pictured together in a Facebook post)
The shooting took place in the 200 block of Morton Avenue in the Five Points area of Athens (pictured: Morton Avenue)
Laura had been living at the Morton Avenue address when the petition for divorce was filed.
The divorce was still pending at the time of Townley’s death.
It is not believed that the couple had any children together.
Police have neither identified Laura Townley as the injured 30-year-old woman nor the suspected shooter.
When asked about the claims, Athens-Clarke County police spokesman Lt. Shaun Barnett said: ‘I can’t confirm any of those details right now.’
‘We are not ruling out that this was potentially a self-defense case related to a domestic violence type incident. However, the investigation is still ongoing,’ he added.
The shooter, who was known to Townley, has not been charged and has spoken to police, he said.
Barnett said that the investigation was ongoing but early indications were that it was a ‘domestic incident.’
Born in Watkinsville, Townley is the son of Tony Townley, whose fast food chain Zaxby’s owned and sponsored the cars he competed in.
He married nurse Laura Townley from Florence, South Carolina, after the pair met through dating app ‘Match’ in 2016.
Figures from NASCAR, including former drivers and journalists who knew Townley have paid tribute to him online.
Current NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace, who raced against him, tweeted: ‘Damn. Rest Easy JWT. Heartbreaking.’
Jeff Hood, who works for the family business Zaxby’s, posted on Facebook: ‘For 17 years, I accompanied John Wes Townley to race tracks throughout the United States and Canada. He was a brother to me.
‘I spent a portion of Saturday afternoon Oct. 2nd catching up with him at the Arkansas/Georgia football game. Six hours later, his life on this earth concluded.
‘Behind the scenes, JWT was a caring, tender-hearted, compassionate person. That’s how I’ll always remember him. I miss you and love you, my dear friend.’
Townley drove a car owned by his father, who was a co-founder of the vehicle’s primary sponsor, fried chicken chain Zaxby’s
Townley, known in the sport as JWT, speaking at a press conference after qualifying for the Arca Racing Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, in July, 2014
NASCAR reporter Chris Knight wrote: ‘I knew John Wes Townley since he entered the sport. He always treated me well, said hi and we checked in with each other once in a while when he left the sport.
‘I am saddened to hear about what happened and my thoughts and prayers are with all the parties involved.’
Fox sports host Kaitlyn Vincie tweeted: ‘Heartbroken for John Wes Townley’s family. Absolutely devastating. Godspeed JWT.’
Townley started driving professionally in 2008 and recorded 186 starts across the Xfinity and Truck Series, NASCAR’s lower two national divisions.
His victory in the Truck Series at Las Vegas six years ago Sunday was the only national series win of his career.
Townley’s car was sponsored by his father’s fast-food chain Zaxby’s.
Opened in 1990, the chain has more than 900 restaurants across 17 states and Tony Townley’s net worth is reported to be around $10 million.
Tony Townley stepped down from the company around a year ago after big investment from Goldman Sachs, leaving his fellow co-founder and high school buddy Zach McLeroy to run the company.