Randy Lanier got his start in grassroots sports car racing and then financed a motorsports career by moving hundreds of thousands of pounds of marijuana. It’s kind of fitting that after nearly three decades in prison, convicted as one of the country’s biggest weed kingpins, that he made his return to racing there too.

In the 1980s Lanier was one of the fastest American drivers around. He had raced in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, won the top sports car racing title in America and was named Rookie of the Year at the 1986 Indianapolis 500. He raced among some of the top drivers of his day. His future seemed bright.

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That future was cut short when the world (namely, federal prosecutors) discovered how Lanier and his associates were financing their racing: by smuggling some 600,000 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. from Colombia on barges. Lanier wasn’t just a weed smuggler, he was the weed smuggler.

His conviction came at the height of the War on Drugs and it resulted in a sentence of life in prison without parole. And so Lanier languished in prison until last year, when the winds shifted in his favor and he was released under circumstances that remain sealed by a court order.

Since then Lanier’s worked to get his life back on track. He has a job. He’s re-connected with his family. He maintains his sentence was unfairly draconian, but he is remorseful over what he did in the past. He’s a man at peace, focused on the future.

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And he’s dipping his toes back into racing, too. Thanks to the kindness of the Rally Baby Racing team, Lanier joined the Jalopnik staff and Road & Track at AER’s Mid-Ohio season finale in October, racing a BMW E30. It was the first time he had raced since Reagan was president.

Guess what? He was pretty fast out there, too. As the hours went on Lanier got better and better. When you’re an Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, old habits die hard. He’s still not as fast as he used to be or wants to be—often a racer’s most vicious competition is with himself—but his goal is to get there.

Lanier may not be a saint, but he’s a guy who’s paid his debt to society and then some. And I think he’s proof that a person can be more than just their mistakes.


Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.