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Townley Starts 2013 By Cruising Past Critics

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 21 2013

John Wes Townley is greeted in Victory Lane at Daytona by ARCA team owner Bill Venturini Sr. (Photo courtesy of the Daytona Beach News-Journal)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Despite radio ear buds, balaclava, helmet and mega-decibel V-8 engine noise, John Wes Townley had no problem hearing what was being said about him during his early years in NASCAR. Nasty words have a way of making their way past all sound-deadening obstacles.

But last Saturday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, the only things Townley was hearing were cheers and congratulations. Townley, 23, had won the season-opening ARCA race and in doing so, had made a lot of people reassess their opinions of the native of Watkinsville, Ga.

“High point of my life,?” Townley said during a telephone conversation four days after the race. “Very much so. Very much so.”

The racing portion of that life began when Townley was 17 years old. It was 2007 and he drove in two K&N East Series races. In one of those, he got a top-10 finish – he was ninth at Iowa Speedway.

The following season, he moved up. He drove partial schedules in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck series and full season in ARCA. Things went well in the later series (he had eight top-10s), not so well in the two NASCAR series.

In 2009 and 2010, things went horribly for Townley. He began hitting walls and other cars in whichever series was racing on a particular day and he became a favorite target of anonymous fans and media members who were in need of a quick quip to snark-up a story or opinion piece.

Townley took it all in with his ears and eyes but says he never let it get to his brain.

“Well, you know, it’s just something that you deal with in the media,” he said. “Somebody’s always going to have something bad to say. I knew that before I got into it so, you kind of brush it off.”

Tougher to brush off were the results of self-examination sessions.

“It was disheartening as far as actual results go,” Townley said. “That’s what would really g0t me discouraged was when you put everything you got into it and, black and white, something goes wrong and you get in trouble and that was the most discouraging thing to me. The other stuff didn’t get to me much.

“But it’s always frustrating when things don’t go your way. I got a little discouraged at one point and I took a year off.”

That year was 2011. He completely stepped away from the sport. Didn’t drive. Didn’t follow. Did reflect.

“Glad I did it,” Townley said. “If I hadn’t taken the year off, I wouldn’t know things that I know now. I had to do that to get to where I am now. You have to go and make a few mistakes before you can really improve.”

Back Townley came in 2012.

“I just missed it so much. I couldn’t go without it. The way I looked at it is that a lot of the guys who are big now, like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, they had a history of wrecking a lot of stuff in the early days, before they got big. And I think that’s just the nature of it. I think everybody goes through it, some more than others.”

Once back, Townley showed modest improvement. Driving for RAB Racing for a full trucks season, he posted two top 10 finishes and finished 16th in points. In five NNS starts, he had an average finish of 26th but was running at the end of all five of those starts for RAB.

This season in NASCAR, Townley has moved to the more established Red Horse Racing, where he will drive the No. 7 Toyota Tundra. He is scheduled to run a full season in trucks and three NNS races.

The one ARCA race in which he has already competed was notable for the fact that he won it, and, the way in which he won it.

Townley started from the pole in his Venturini Motorsports car and ran lead pack all day. However, as the laps clicked down, he found himself stuck behind former champion and eight-time Daytona winner Bobby Gerhart. With seven laps to to, Gerhart’s car began to sputter with a fuel pickup problem.

Townley nicked the slowing Gerhart can went past to take the lead. On his rear bumper was up-and-coming talent Kyle Larson, who was in the race in order to be cleared to drive in the Nationwide race at Daytona.

In front of Townley was a sizable minefield of slower lapped cars.

Over on Twitter, the critics were having a ball.

On the track, Townley started knocking the backmarkers off with two laps to go. On the final lap, he had to leave the safety of the bottom of the track and move up to the wall to get past two-wide racing by lapped cars. Once past, he moved back down to the bottom, held off Larson and got the victory.

Townley not only got his first major victory, but he got veteran racer/owner Bill Venturini his first Daytona victory. Venturini and his crew rushed to Victory Lane and jumped their driver: For once it was a happy mob greeting Townley.

And Townley got a big boost of confidence and momentum heading to this weekend’s Camping World event in Speedweeks.

On Wednesday, Townley reflected on the ARCA victory by saying, “The last few laps were critical.”

To the race and, to Townley’s life.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 21 2013
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