John Wes Townley, the infamous "Chicken Man" who once seemed to wreck on a weekly basis, has announced an unlikely return to NASCAR.
Townley will drive for RAB Racing in the Camping World Truck Series and race a full-season schedule beginning with Daytona Speedweeks, the team said. The last time Townley raced in NASCAR, he was seen driving an RAB Nationwide Series car in 2010 – but then he suddenly disappeared and hadn't been heard from in more than a year.
According to an RAB press release, Townley will be backed by "new sponsors" and there was no mention of Zaxby's, the fast-food chicken restaurant of which his father, Tony, is a co-founder.
The Zaxby's sponsorship earned Townley his "Chicken Man" nickname, a reference to the old Stroker Ace movie in which the Burt Reynolds title character is sponsored by a chicken restaurant.
But for much of his NASCAR tenure, Townley was hardly the "Fastest Chicken in the South," as Stroker Ace was. Townley struggled immensely and wrecked car after car when he started.
Despite his lack of success, Townley was hired by Richard Childress Racing at the start of the 2010 season (along with his family's sponsorship). But he only lasted until April before RCR pulled the plug on his tenure with the team (but kept the sponsorship for the rest of the year).
RAB re-hired Townley in July of that year, but he only lasted about six weeks before he baffled RAB by not showing up to Richmond International Raceway on the day of a race. Puzzlingly, the team never heard from him again...until recently, it seems.
Now Townley is back – although the "Chicken Man" nickname may not be as fitting without Zaxby's on the hood – and will run for Rookie of the Year honors in the Truck Series. He's made seven career Truck starts (for Roush Fenway Racing) with a top finish of 18th and three DNFs.
JWT's return could be ugly, and he could wreck plenty of Trucks this season. On the other hand, perhaps a more mature Townley will be better this time around.
Either way, Townley's strange story gives us something to talk about – and for that, we're grateful.
Welcome back, Chicken Man!
Related: Read our "Salute to the Chicken Man" (May 2010)