Randy Lanier was one of the first drivers I can remember seeing run in person at Indianapolis; my father took me to a day of time trials in 1986, and I remember Lanier's #12 machine as if it were yesterday. I had heard of his fate in the years since then, but on a whim, decided to write a man who had figured so prominently in one of my earliest in-person 500 memories. I sent a few questions to him, hoping he'd be willing to answer them.
I was slightly surprised and pleased to receive a lengthy response to my letter. I'm not in a position to judge whether or not justice has been done by Randy Lanier, but I can share a bit of his story with you, in his own words...
Randy, can you explain a little bit about your background and early life, especially as it pertained to your racing career?
RL: While attending the 1978 auto show that was being held at Miami Beach Convention Center, I came across a booth representing the SCCA. I took a few of the pamphlets home. One pamphlet was about racing schools and information as to what was required to obtain a competition license. That year, I bought 1957 356 Porsche Speedster. The car had been raced at some regional SCCA events. It still had the drum brakes and some shoddy wiring. After months of preparing the 356, I took it to Sebring and other South Florida race tracks.
|By '87, Lanier's racing career was over.|
Teaming up with Bill Whittington and crew chief Keith Leyton, we won the L.A. Grand Prix, Laguna Seca, Grand Prix Charlotte, G.I. Joe Grand Prix at Portland, Michigan 500, and Watkins Glen Grand Prix; this gave me enough points for the GTP championship with one race remaining.
In 1985, I drove several IndyCar race with the Aricero Race Team. In 1986, I was scheduling to run the entire season with the Aricero team.
You finished in 10th place in the 1986 Indianapolis 500, winning the Rookie of the Year Award. What do you most remember from that race?
RL: What I remember most from the 1986 Indy 500 is that it rained a lot that month. I also remember how the wind would affect the car. The start of the race is stuck in my memory as if it were yesterday. On the pace lap Tom Sneva spun out and hit the inside rail on the back straight. He was right behind me.
That first lap is unforgettable. It seems like there was a lot of debris, such as hot dog wrappers, blowing in the wind.
What were your biggest memories from that period in racing? You also garnered some Top 10 finishes at places like Portland, the Meadowlands, and Cleveland while in CART.
RL: Some fond memories from that period are of the friendships with drivers such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser, Jr., Arie Luyendyk, AJ Foyt, and Johnny Rutherford.
In 1987, you were arrested for drug trafficking (marijuana). What were the reasons given to you for the sentence of life imprisonment?
RL: The reason for sentencing me to Life Without Parole (Natural Death) was because I was convicted of running a Criminal Enterprise which distributed marijuana.
I guess the big question everyone always asks is: why did you do it?
RL: There are probably a few different reasons as to why I distributed marijuana. Faulty thinking and having my priorities in the wrong place is one reason. Growing up in the 60s and being around the marijuana culture could have had some influence on me. Money was also a contributing factor, along with the thrill of that sort of lifestyle.
Did any of the money from those transactions fuel your racing career?
RL: Yes, the money from distributing marijuana helped win the 1984 GTP championship.
Is there any sort of appeals process remaining, or is the ruling of life without parole final?
RL: There are no appeals remaining that I am aware of. Currently, I am gathering signatures of support to present to the President for Commutation of Sentence. (You can find this petition at releaserandylanier.com).
You mention on your website your son was only 7 days old when you were arrested. What sort of family time or arrangements have you had over the years?
RL: My family and I are very close. We visit as often as we can.
How difficult was it to realize you were never going to race again?
RL: The thought of never racing did not really bother me, because I had bigger problems at the time.
Do you ever miss racing?
RL: At first, I missed racing; being around and in race cars, the race tracks, and the comradeship.
Do you still keep in contact with anyone from the racing community?
RL: I have no contact from anyone within the racing community. However, John Andretti recently contacted me to sign a race car that will be auctioned off for St. Jude Hospital.
What is a normal day like for you now? What are your passions?
RL: Recently, I took up oil painting. My days start early with yoga and tai chi at 5:30 am. I try to play chess as often as I can, and I work out regularly. Running was a big part of my life until the cartilage in my right hip deteriorated.
If you could tell your mid-20s self something right now, what would it be?
RL: “Accomplishments and achievements are not what life is all about.”
Do you have any sort of message for the racing fans who still remember you from your career?
RL: Life is how you see it. Our thoughts determine our experience of every circumstance and situation. Peace.