Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Off Course: An Interview With Randy Lanier

In 1986, he was Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500, scoring a Top 10 finish alongside drivers such as Danny Sullivan and Johnny Rutherford. A year later, he would be indicted on major Federal drug charges, resulting in a sentence of life imprisonment by 1988. 26 years after he came near the pinnacle of motorsport at Indianapolis, Randy Lanier remains incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Florida.

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.
(Credit: releaserandylanier)
In 1980 I won the SCCA’s SouthEast Division for E-Production. In 1982, while attending the 24 Hours of Daytona, one of the crew members for the North American Ferrari Team informed me a driver was sick and might not make the race. I spoke with the team owner and was allowed to do some practice laps. The sick driver turned out to be a woman named Janet Guthrie. The car itself was a B.B. 512 Ferrari. We ran in 3rd place for 18 hours until the gearbox broke. That May I was invited to driver in LeMans with the North American Ferrari Team. In 1983, I raced with several different IMSA teams of the GTP circuit, finishing 2nd at the 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1984, I put together a team, calling the Blue Thunder Race Team. We campaigned in two March GTPs. It was a year that was beyond my expectations.

 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 randylanier.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.


  1. Zack, I love that you did this interview and I'm equally glad Mr. Lanier was equally interested in responding. The big stories of every Indy 500 are ones that get told times over, but the memories of other stories are just as important to me in maintaining the overlying 'image' of the event.

    1. Thanks very much! I was pleased he decided to write back. There's no end of stories for the 500; this just happens to be one of the more tragic ones.

  2. Thanks for posting this - I signed the petition and I hope he gets released. He's done enough time for his crime... Just wondering what ever happened to Salt Walther and if he's been released by now.

  3. Jeff Downer Indianapolis, INApril 10, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Very interesting. I anticipated some self pitying comments and such. I was wrong. No excuses and straight forward observations about what he has lost through his choices. Well done.

  4. I believe he was supposed to out this past February, but offhand I'm not sure.

  5. Nice work Zack!

  6. Fascinating. Thank you for writing this letter. After 26 years, his measured response seems worthy in my otherwise uninformed opinion that he should be released.

  7. Thanks, guys! And yes, he seemed pretty reflective and direct. I appreciate that.

  8. What a cool article. I signed Randy's pardon petition. This article gave me some insight on who he was, compared to just the story we hear. Even a few details are humanizing. Aside from that, still very interesting as to how someone can go from the 500 to jail..

  9. A good article I was working in IMSA at the time Randy won his championship. I too signed his petition he has done way too much time for this. Murderers serve less time and Randy didn't hurt anyone it was only POT for Gods sake.

  10. Interesting article about Randy (Lanier) and seeing his name resurface. It's been a long time since I was with Randy. Patsy and I were team members during the Arciero Indy Car era. I was with Blue Thunder (limited time in Ft. Laud until we move to the Indy shop with Frank Arciero in Anaheim CA and then on to Indpls. Lots of thoughts, good memories, photos, and behind the scenes of that 1984 season with Randy. There was so much going on during that era. Anyone out there reading this will know our names. Thoughts of Randy often. It was a good era and Randy was on of us! That seaon was out of control and ever so special. At Indy that year we had a special team. Rained! And Phil (Arciero) won the card came. Linda Vaughn got Patsy and the girls wasted up in the Uno Suite. I think of that 1984 season often and anyone who has comments and posts of it I'd like to hear from you.
    We've all moved on and would love to hear from anyone during that era or just interested as I'm sure that Randy would enjoy your thoughts.
    LeRoy White bleroywhite@gmail.com

  11. Randy is a dear friend of mine, yes he made a bad choice but he has more then paid for his crime. He has grown from into a man who has many regrets and has served his time. Yes it was pot lots of it. But now the goverment grows it and with a script says smoke it for your health. Please share his petition site with your friends and ask them to do the same This article will help those understand who Randy is. Thank you for bringing awareness to the public.

  12. I have often wondered about the whereabouts of Randy Lanier. His name inevitably comes up each year with Donald Davidson's Talk of Gasoline Alley and while Donald likes to tip-toe around such stories I am grateful for the interview. I do not condone what Randy chose to do, however, I find life without parole a tad harsh. I believe he has served his time and in today's deal-a-minute world of justice he should be freed sooner rather than later. I am most appreciative of the interview and the passing on of Randy's thoughts and explanations for things that transpired after 1986. Thanks, again.

  13. Amazing that Charles Manson just came up for parole(athough denied)is a sad and sick fact of our justice system. Randy never murdered a soul, was never charged with having any firearms or hurting anyone but our dear government at a time when Mrs. Bush was on a rampage. The man had done life with no chance of parole yet Charles Manson still gets a chance. Lets hope Mr. Manson never gets out but lets pray someday, some president will see the unjustice in Randy's life and give him back a life. It burns such a hole in my heart that this man has been given a sentence to that he has to pay for life for a small mistake that he made coming from an era, neighborhood and life in south florida which didn't offer much hope too many young people back then. Give him a chance to have a life, he has paid enough!!!!!!

  14. Great Interview..... I know Randy, and he is a" great" guy... He has paid his dues 10 times over.... Let this man free.... He has never killed anyone..... What really makes me up-set is that our goverment lets people with health issues smoke pot...... What is wrong with this picture........

  15. I feel the justice system has proved a point by using Randy as an example. He did not deserve the sentence imposed on him. We see people like Casey Anthony getting away with murder, yet once an upstanding citizen remains behind bars for the rest of his natural life. THIS IS NOT JUSTICE. RECONSIDER AND RELEASE RANDY LANIER. I too have signed the petition.

  16. The Chick PickersApril 17, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    I too have signed Randy's petition, it is an injustice to keep him behind bars any longer. He is and always was a great guy. There are many murderers that get from 8-15 years where is the justice in that. Thanks for the great article, I'm glad you got to know Randy.

  17. Thanks for all the comments! It was extremely interesting and informative to hear from Randy. It sounds like there's definitely some folks finding out about his punishment and situation.

  18. That was the heyday of racing in the USA. Between Cart and IMSA It has never been better. I'm not happy Randy is still in jail. Morality and the legal system are far apart. Now we don't want to have criminals walking around w millions of $s cuz that can make them very dangerous. But the fact that he had 2 kids 7 and 1 years old when he went away and he had to miss them growing up is enough punishment in my estimation.

  19. Folks, Randy Lanier has a new website and Facebook page. The site is under construction and will be completed in the next coupe of weeks, we will also be initiating a new petition drive, and pardon campaign, so please subscribe to either to keep up with efforts to get this travesty of justice reversed.



    My name is Cheri Sicard and I am the admin for these sites and coordinating these efforts. Find me on Facebook or via my blog www.CannabisCheri.com. I am in almost daily contact with Randy. He needs all the support he can get during these upcoming efforts. Please sign on stay tuned.

    Cheri Sicard