Publish date:

INDYCAP VICE

Author:

WHEN RANDY LANIER SPED TO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR HONORS AT THE 1986 INDIANAPOLIS 500, FEW KNEW HIS RACING CREDENTIALS, LET ALONE HIS STATUS AS ONE OF THE NATION'S MOST PROLIFIC DRUG RUNNERS, SMUGGLING IN TONS OF MARIJUANA WHEN HE WASN'T ON THE TRACK. NOW, AFTER 27 YEARS IN PRISON, LANIER IS LOOKING TO THE ROAD AHEAD

"THE THING ABOUT DRIVING," ANNOUNCES RANDY LANIER, "IS THAT YOU GO AS FAST AS YOUR NUTSACK LETS YA."

With that, he crams a black helmet over his head, folds his body into the front seat, revs the ignition and roars off.

It's a thoroughly pleasant Sunday in South Florida, wispy clouds overhead, perfect for a track day at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Racing enthusiasts of all levels bring their cars to this 2.2-mile asphalt ribbon and work on their skills. The 62-year-old Lanier comes as an instructor, but he says, without apology, that he'd like to race professionally again and if some of the monied types from fancy racing teams happen to notice his talents, "Well," he adds with a wink, "that would be nice too."

Lanier doesn't look his age. He's toned, a consequence of the yoga he practices. His tanned skin bears strikingly few creases. He still has a healthy ration of hair. He does, though—and in a straight-out-of-central-casting kind of way—look the part of the veteran driver. With a thick mustache and a gunfighter's stare behind tinted glasses, he stalks around the track with an easy confidence. When he approaches other drivers and crewmen and investors and, companionably, converses in carspeak, he does so in a twangy Southern accent, his voice pitched an octave higher than you'd expect.

And when Lanier sits behind the wheel, orbiting the course, it's clear he's no Sunday driver. Jaw locked tight, eyes staring fixedly ahead, he maneuvers the car with authority. If his reflexes have slowed over the years, it's not apparent. Besides, any decline would be offset by the driving wisdom he accumulated from seven years on the circuit.

Foreshadowing alert: That "fortune favors the brave" is such a truism in auto racing, it has hardened into cliché. But get too aggressive—too brave—and it can bite you in the ass. Midway through the afternoon Lanier is piloting a Camaro around the Homestead track hard, maybe harder than he ought to. The car starts reeking of brake fluid. Back in the garage assorted automotive effluvia begins puddling underneath the chassis, and the front brakes are so hot that they actually shoot up flames, amusing everyone nearby—with the exception of your correspondent, who has rented this car for the afternoon and may or may not have read the insurance forms closely.

Whenever Lanier spends a day like this at the track, the recollections come screaming back. He remembers his first race, not far away, in West Palm Beach. And he remembers the bigger ones that followed at the most famous tracks in the world. He recalls the sprints and the 24-hour competitions. All the wins and the comebacks and what he calls "the woulda, shoulda, couldas." There was the time he was the 1986 Rookie of the Year at the Indy 500.

At the track Lanier says that he doesn't think much of the time missed or the promising racing career that didn't so much sputter as it left skid marks. He tries not to dwell on that most unusual quarter-century gap on his racing résumé. Those lost years? He spent them in prison, the legacy of his moonlighting in what he calls "the thing I did when I wasn't racing." See, at the same time he made a V8-powered ascent to become one of America's most promising open-wheel drivers, Randy Lanier was also establishing himself as one of America's most prolific drug kingpins.

IN THE mid-1980s the Indianapolis 500 marked one of the red-letter days on the sports calendar. The race drew all manner of celebrities and TV ratings to rival NFL playoff games. The '86 race was postponed a week on account of rain, but it marked the first time it would be televised live "flag to flag" on ABC. David Hasselhoff, then at the peak of his career, performed the national anthem. Chuck Yeager drove the Corvette pace car.

For all the coverage the race attracted, one of the top drivers came shrouded in mystery. A little-known 31-year-old rookie from Florida—all mustache, tan and attitude—Randy Lanier barely rated a mention in the souvenir program. The marquee drivers were only vaguely aware of his existence—so much so that a group of veteran drivers that included A.J. Foyt and Tom Sneva demanded he retake the final phase of his rookie test. But Lanier put up a qualifying speed of 209.964 mph, destroying the previous Indy rookie record held by Michael Andretti. He started the race in fifth position, and The Indianapolis Star touted him as "one to watch."

If folks didn't know much about Lanier, he was fine with that. "Some mystique or whatever was O.K. with me," he says today. "Attention was never important. I just wanted to race." But after two hours of racing at Indy, here he was during the business end of the biggest open-wheel event in the world, darting low and preventing pole sitter and two-time 500 champ Rick Mears from passing him at one of the critical junctures.

Lanier was making up for lost time. He had come to the sport late, giving lie to the conventional wisdom that the best drivers need to make racing their singular focus around the time they first get their licenses. Lanier had always enjoyed driving and recalled listening to radio broadcasts of the Indy 500 at Memorial Day cookouts. But not until his mid-20s did he consider it a career.

In the late 1970s, a twentysomething Lanier attended an auto show at the Miami Convention Center. He walked by a booth sponsored by a driving club and signed up impulsively, another hobby for an incurable thrill-seeker. He soon spent $7,500 on a four-cylinder 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster that was coated with rust and corroded on the inside. But Lanier stayed up late in his carport, tinkering with the body, rewiring the interior, installing disc brakes. After reading a manual, he put in a roll cage. Before he knew it, he had himself a race car.

In 1980, he entered a small amateur race in West Palm Beach. He came in first. While his winnings totaled $0.00, and the result didn't even make it into the local newspaper, the race had fed something inside him. Lanier moved easily in an ecosystem where testosterone sloshes around as freely as motor oil. He was only 5'6", 154 pounds, but possessed a flinty confidence. When he took his Porsche to the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Runoffs outside Atlanta later that year, he settled into a spot in the paddock next to a Formula Ford, an open-wheel, single-seat, all-out race car. Before his race Lanier killed time by performing wheelies on his four-wheeler. The driver of the Ford and his father objected, claiming Lanier was disturbing the peace in their motor home. Lanier was told that the driver, John Paul Jr., and his father, John Paul Sr., were racing royalty. This was of little consequence to Lanier and his crew, and there was a heated argument.

In astonishingly little time Lanier had graduated from "driver" to "racer." By year's end he had won a Southeast amateur circuit, and he soon graduated to International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) races throughout Florida and the South. The circuit was known for its drug culture. Indy winner Bobby Rahal recalls that the running joke was that IMSA stood for International Marijuana Smugglers Association. Lanier says that he never raced while high and stopped smoking marijuana altogether after an early amateur race. "I realized pot was going to hurt my racing," he says, "and I didn't want that."

Lanier had endurance to match his speed. The longer the races, the better he tended to fare. In 1982—when he had been racing for fewer than three years—he attended the 24 Hours of Daytona. When one of the drivers on a team of Ferraris, women's racing pioneer Janet Guthrie, took ill, word circulated that a ringer from South Florida was looking for a ride. Lanier clocked some laps on Daytona's banked oval, and the Ferrari bosses were sufficiently impressed that they offered him a seat.

During the race Lanier's transmission failed. Still, he'd gained his entrée. By that June, Lanier was driving a Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world's oldest and most prestigious endurance race. The next year, back at the 24 Hours of Daytona, his team placed second. "People asked me whether I wished I'd gotten into racing 10 years earlier," he says. "I guess. But I was just happy that I found this passion."

During these same years, Lanier had joined up with a trio of brothers, Don, Bill and Dale Whittington. Together they made up Blue Thunder Racing. Like Lanier, the brothers hailed from South Florida. Like Lanier, when they drove and when they stalked the pits, they smudged the line between self-belief and arrogance. It turned out that two of the brothers were also in the same side business.

If you want to reveal yourself as an auto racing novice—or just reveal yourself as an ass—you watch a race and ask aloud: "What's so hard about making left turns all afternoon?" Racing requires timing and feel and calibration, an intuitive awareness that can't be approximated on the interstate, no matter how severely you exceed the speed limit. But racing also requires a huge investment of capital—everything from repairs to track time to, of course, the vehicle itself. By all outward appearances, Lanier and his team had money to burn. "I didn't have a budget," Lanier says. "No expense spared."

Mostly with Lanier behind the wheel, the team won race after race, from Watkins Glen in New York to Laguna Seca in California, and Lanier finished the season as IMSA champion. "Wow, 1984, that was a year," says Lanier with a whistle. "That feeling of success, that got addictive."

By the mid-1980s, Lanier had moved up to the big leagues, all the way to Indy in '86. Before the race Lanier had joked to the Chicago Tribune that because of his inexperience, he wanted to cover "my guys with Day-Glo paint so I can find them" in the pits. But on race day he drew on his reserves of poise and drove like a veteran.

Rahal took the checkered flag. Lanier finished 10th. Any disappointment in not winning was overwhelmed by his long-term optimism. A top 10 finish, and Rookie of the Year honors? In only the third year of full-time racing? "I figured," he says, "it would only get better."

Lanier could still go unrecognized by casual racing fans, but within the sport he was the subject of growing, intense curiosity. He possessed obvious talent; he also possessed obvious means. "There was a lot of rumor, a lot of mumblings in the paddock," Rahal remembers, "about how [Lanier's team] afforded to race."

A few months later the answer emerged when the FBI, the DEA and federal prosecutors got involved. They pegged Lanier's net worth at $68 million. Such were the spoils of his role as a "principal administrator of a continual criminal enterprise" that imported hundreds of tons of marijuana from Colombia.

LANIER WAS able to become such a skilled driver for all sorts of reasons, not least his reflexes and an intuitive grasp of physics and geometry. But some of his success also owed to his comfort with the sport's rhythms. The notion of beginning small—starting an endeavor mostly for kicks—but graduating to higher levels.... Balancing pragmatism with risk-taking.... Learning from mistakes and making incremental adjustments.... Those were also essential elements in his other line of work.

Lanier debuted in the drug trade on the equivalent of a dirt track. He was 13 when his family relocated from Lynchburg, Va., to Broward County, Fla. "Whole different way of living," he says with a chuckle. He had ambition and native intelligence, but his smarts were mostly of the street variety. School didn't excite him. Sometimes he'd duck out of class, head to the beach, meet friends and suck on a joint.

Lanier's father, a carpenter, wanted his son to get a haircut and an honest job. But by age 15 he was selling marijuana to his classmates at Miramar High and then, when he dropped out, to students in his GED class. It was more about the perks than the profit. "Honestly, I didn't even think about it as drug dealing," he says. "It was just a way for me to smoke without having to pay for it."

He took a job on a construction crew, and when his coworkers—assuming, rightly, that Lanier's ponytail was the earmark of a stoner—asked if he could score them some marijuana, he sold to some of them too. In time joints turned into baggies. Baggies turned into bags. Bags turned into bricks. Bricks became bales. "Let's just say, I was definitely making more money than I made nailing boards all day," he says.

So much so that at age 19, he bought a 27-foot Magnum Sport speedboat for $18,000. For Lanier it was a supercool impulse purchase. He could use it to tool around on weekends and jump waves on the ocean. It took only a few months for an associate to suggest that the boat could be put to commercial use. And that's when he went from being a drug dealer to a drug trafficker.

Lanier's first mission, solicited by South Florida dealers, entailed heading to the Bahamas and picking up what he estimated to be a ton of marijuana from a "mother ship" waiting offshore. Already coursing with adrenaline, he got a surge when the bales arrived late. On another trip, his boat—probably because it was weighed down with the cargo—encountered engine trouble. But he avoided sinking, eluded the Coast Guard, and enjoyed the cash representing his 25% cut. There were other close calls, but he was never caught.

When Lanier was 22 he married his high school sweetheart, Pam. To fill the time between runs—and to present an air of legitimacy—Lanier started a business near Fort Lauderdale, renting out boats and jet-skis. But most of his early 20s were spent smoking marijuana, transporting marijuana and trying to improve the schematics for distributing marijuana.

To borrow from a hit movie, Lanier soon realized he was gonna need a bigger boat. He eventually bought a 65-footer, a craft that enabled him to go directly to the source—Colombia—and gave him enough space to accommodate 18,000 pounds of marijuana on each trip. More times than he can recall, Lanier would dock at the port of Santa Marta, load up and return via New Orleans or San Francisco or Bridgeport, Conn.

Soon Lanier's trawler became part of an armada. There would be tugboats. Then barges for the tugboats to push. They figured out that by hollowing out a barge, they could pack it to the gills and customs agents wouldn't find the stash. Shipments, Lanier says, would routinely exceed 100,000 pounds. He wasn't quite on par with his contemporary Pablo Escobar, whose Medellín cartel was spending $2,500 a month on rubber bands, so much cash was there to be bundled. But by any definition, Lanier was big time, making money faster than he could launder it.

Federal agents would later assert—and Lanier would later admit—that he partnered mostly with Ben Kramer, a kindred spirit who lived nearby and was moonlighting as a professional powerboat racer. As Lanier's auto racing career flourished, he cut back his drug runs "to maybe four or five a year." Instead he handled the distribution. The same way he would tinker under the hood, he was constantly trying to improve the efficiency of his smuggling operation. "Just like any import business, really," he says. "The stuff would come off the boat, get loaded into trucks, and we would have warehouses all over the country."

At the time, anyway, Lanier suffered no moral crisis. He saw himself as a businessman taking advantage of some favorable coordinates at the intersection of supply and demand. "I want to say I felt bad," he says, "but I didn't." Plus, the surge that came with outsmarting or outmaneuvering the Coast Guard and the customs agents? As he told the Broward County New Times: "It was all pretty exhilarating. Kinda like racing."

How did he toggle between these two worlds? "It wasn't comfortable, I'll tell you that," he says. "It was like leading double lives. A whole bunch of betrayal and lies. I tried to hide it." There were times that he cruised gasoline alley looking for a pay phone or slipped out of his car to check his beeper. There were other times that a race would be delayed for, say, a wet track, causing him to miss a smuggling run. But, he says, "best I could, I kept it all separate. I didn't want to be thinking about racing when I was [drug-running], and I couldn't be thinking about grass when I was racing."

In 1985 and '86, Lanier drove in 18 CART races, at the time the premier open-wheel series in the U.S. In the last one, the Michigan 500, he was traveling 214 mph when a tire blew and he hit the wall in Turn 3 with such force that his femur was shattered, the bone protruding through his fire suit.

By then, you might say, the wheels were already coming off. A few months before Lanier's Indy 500 debut, Bill Whittington and his brother Don were indicted in federal court on charges of conspiracy to import marijuana, tax fraud and income tax evasion. (Dale wasn't charged.) The arrest supported the widespread speculation at the time that the sport of racing had a drug problem: not consumption, but trafficking. "I know you're telling Randy Lanier's story," says Rahal, "but at that time he was far from the only one."

Remember the Paul family that Lanier confronted in the parking lot early in his career? Shortly after the dustup, John Paul Sr.—a Harvard-educated champion endurance driver—was sentenced in Florida to 20 years in prison for the attempted murder of a federal drug witness. Meanwhile John Paul Jr., a multitime Indy 500 driver, had his promising career go off-track when he was sentenced to five years in prison in 1986 for his involvement in a drug-trafficking ring with his father.

Both Whittington brothers entered guilty pleas. Bill received a 10-year prison sentence for conspiracy to import marijuana and a five-year sentence for tax fraud and income tax evasion. Don was sentenced to 18 months for conspiracy to defraud the IRS.

Today Lanier maintains that while there was some occasional "intermingling," the Whittingtons' smuggling enterprise was separate from his. Each knew the source of the other's money, but their partnership extended only to racing, he says. They had the equivalent of a don't-ask-don't-tell policy when it came to their extra-racing affairs and income streams.

Still, at the time, the Whittingtons' arrests provoked questions. "I didn't even know Bill was in trouble," Lanier told the Sun-Sentinel in 1986. "I hope people will take me on my driving skills, not whom I associate with." He also told reporters that he knew of no drug money being invested in the racing team. While Lanier concedes that was a falsehood, he is adamant that he did not use racing to launder money. "I just wanted to spend to be the best I could be," he says.

Lanier now claims that he planned to make one last smuggling megarun in the fall of 1986—a victory lap of sorts—and then get out of the game. With his tens of millions in ill-gotten gains from smuggling, he could focus full-time on racing without the stress of drug running. But that didn't happen.

In October 1986 the DEA handed down a series of charges in federal court in South Florida stemming from what they asserted was "a major drug and money laundering organization." Still recovering from that crash at the Michigan 500, Lanier surrendered to authorities immediately. He posted bond and was released. But his legal problems worsened three months later, when he was indicted—along with Kramer and five others—in the Southern District of Illinois for drug smuggling under the new Continuing Criminal Enterprise law, superseding the Miami indictment.

According to investigators, theirs was a "complete and classical drug scheme" with assets that included eight motorboats and 17 properties. In total, the charges alleged that the drug operation brought more than 600,000 pounds of marijuana into the United States.

It turned out that a low-rent dealer in central Illinois was busted with a few pounds of cannabis in his broken-down truck. Tasked by the Reagan Administration with doggedly pursuing all drug crimes, investigators worked their way up the supply chain. One supplier flipped on the next, and eventually they were led to Lanier. "It was," he says, "a game of dominoes."

Ask him about his drug trafficking, and Lanier says, perhaps a little too casually, "It was the '80s." That is, it was a decade of excess. And South Florida was the gravitational center. It was the time of Miami Vice, an entire prime-time show predicated on the cat-and-mouse game between drug detectives and smugglers. The gold chains and pastel clothes and speedboats of Crockett and Tubbs's world, that was Lanier's reality.

Upon his indictment, Lanier says, he was offered a deal: If he turned informant and testified against a half-dozen others in his network, he would receive a 22-year sentence. "We tried to work it out with my lawyers and the Justice Department—I was prepared to do 10 years—but we couldn't come to terms," he says. "But bad decision by me. My ego was so big that by that point, I was admitting guilt and still convinced that somehow I would get out of it."

Given the quantities involved, Lanier was going to be classified as a kingpin, and under the law—despite the absence of violence, the absence of prior arrests and the absence of narcotics—Lanier was facing a brutal penalty. His lawyers warned that if he were convicted of the highest drug charge possible, it carried a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole. "You enter wearing handcuffs," he says, "and you go out in a casket."

AMAN WHO climbs into a car and goes thundering around ovals at speeds exceeding 200 mph? You didn't expect him to go down without a chase, did you? When the Illinois indictments came down, Lanier went on the lam. Though he had a wife, a seven-year-old daughter and a newborn son at home, Lanier fled to Europe, landing in Monte Carlo, where he cut a Bond-like figure, holing up in swank hotels and gambling at casinos. Then he relocated to Antigua, where he owned a home.

He had vague plans to obtain a fake passport, head far away—New Zealand, maybe—reconnect with his family there, and then resume his driving career under an alias if need be. But a few months into his escape, he was fishing on a boat under a relentlessly blue sky, when he heard the whir of blades overhead and then saw a small plane land on a grass runway. He didn't pay it much attention, assuming it was a tourist expedition. But when he saw a large boat blocking his entrance into the port, he realized there was a problem. He says that he maneuvered into a smaller boat and ran onto land, sprinting down a dirt road. A convoy of Jeeps pursued him, and he was caught. He was flown to Puerto Rico, where he was immediately arrested.

Lanier spent the summer of 1988 on trial before Judge James L. Foreman in the Southern District of Illinois. "You have before you, Judge, one of the richest men in the United States because of his dealings in drugs," announced the prosecutor. Witness after witness came forward detailing the smuggling operation. So overwhelming was the evidence against Lanier that he didn't bother with denial. "My theory of defense was that, yeah, I imported and distributed the weed. But it wasn't an organization—a criminal enterprise like they had in the statute—but a bunch of friends that dealt in handshakes." He pauses, appreciating the absurdity. "Yeah, I made some bad choices."

On Dec. 7, 1988, Lanier was convicted of importing and distributing more than 300 tons of Colombian marijuana. "You have caused a lot of heartache and ruined a lot of lives in this country," Judge Foreman said in sentencing. Lanier shouted that life without parole would constitute "cruel and unusual" punishment, the deprivation of a Constitutional right. "A person should not," Lanier told the court, "have to spend the rest of his life in prison for marijuana."

Unmoved, the judge stuck with the sentencing guidelines: life without parole. And he garnished it by adding 40 years for conspiring to distribute marijuana and another five for conspiring to defraud the IRS. Lanier forfeited $60 million in assets to the government.

BEN KRAMER, Lanier's partner and co-defendant, was also handed life without parole and sent to a federal prison outside Miami. Barely a year in, he plotted an escape that's still story fodder in South Florida, arranging for an associate to fly a helicopter over the prison yard during exercise time. On April 17, 1989, the chopper arrived and, as it hovered, Kramer ran out and grabbed one of the skids. But with the weight of a human body disturbing the balance, the rotor tangled in the concertina wire and the helicopter crashed into the yard. The pilot broke his legs. Kramer broke his ankle. "They gave it a try," warden John Clark told reporters. "But they sure made a mess of it."

Lanier thinks it's no coincidence that shortly after that he was placed in solitary confinement. "Here's what I learned in the SHU," he says. "Humans' ability to adapt is amazing." Lanier read voraciously, taught himself oil painting, took up yoga and devised an exercise regimen using his body weight. He plotted a series of escapes in his mind but kept reaching the irreducible conclusion: "You ain't getting away from the feds at a max security prison." Over the years he was transferred repeatedly—Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Kansas. At Leavenworth, he crossed paths with John Paul Sr. They often walked the yard together, reminiscing about racing.

For more than two decades Lanier was resigned to spending his remaining years in prison. His hopes were rekindled in 2011, when one of his codefendants was released. "He was older and had cancer, but still, things seemed to be softening," Lanier says. Over the next few years he and his lawyers made pleas for clemency.

Finally, on Oct. 15, 2014, Lanier was released from the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, Fla., northwest of Orlando. The specific reasons for his release are murky. Did Lanier provide additional information? Was there some other kind of quid pro quo? Was this simply reflective of shifting views on marijuana or a sense that 27 years for a nonviolent first offense was sufficient punishment? The motion is under seal, and the relevant U.S. attorneys did not respond to messages seeking comment. Says Lanier, "I can't say enough about the Obama Administration and the Justice Department having the grasp on reality. When you see it from the inside, you realize that the majority of the War on Drugs offenders with major time are nonviolent."

At age 60 he was given a passport to a world at once familiar and foreign. He returned to South Florida to find people taking photos on phones they kept in their pockets. And then uploading so their friends could see them instantly. He marveled that "folks no longer used road maps." When Lanier went to get his Florida driver's license the first week of his release, he was asked to sign a screen. He reached for a pen.

Eventually he began to access the modern world, including setting up an email account under the user name Randylanierfree. Reconnecting with his family has been both harder and more gratifying. The son who was an infant when Lanier went to prison turns 30 this month, with twin sons of his own. Lanier's daughter, now 37, is living in Colorado. (The irony is lost on no one that today she can head to state-sanctioned dispensaries and buy the same marijuana that landed her dad in prison.) Lanier remarried while in jail but divorced after his wife was convicted of money laundering and deported to South America. He now lives with Pam, his first wife. "Me and my ex," he says smiling, "we're taking it slow but trying to rekindle it."

Lanier is on probation until October of this year. Leaving Florida even for something as innocuous as visiting his 90-year-old mother, as he did last week, requires permission. After working at Swap Shop flea market, he is now a "behavioral health technician" at Epiphany, a South Florida sober-living facility. Though not part of his job description, Lanier is happy to impart life lessons—"We're here to be happy; that's a big point I make," he says—to clients who have included former NBA player Jayson Williams (SI, Dec. 12, 2016).

Money is sparse. The man who once owned places in the Caribbean and Manhattan now lives paycheck to paycheck. He shops for clothes at thrift stores. He's struggling to save up for a laptop. "That's O.K., man," he's quick to add. "Money and greed corrupted me. I'm happy as can be, loving every day."

If he's immeasurably far removed from devoting millions to his racing career, that doesn't mean it's over. Lanier spends most of his free time around tracks, and he's happiest when breathing air scented with exhaust fumes, at places where the dopplering of cars forms the audio track. Thanks to Facebook, he's been able to reconnect with all sorts of racing associates. He's hooked up with a local outfit, the Performance Driving Group, to serve as a professional driving instructor at various tracks. He hangs out at garages, learning new automotive technology, and recently became an "athlete affiliate" for a sports gaming app called FireFan. "Bottom line," he says, "I very much still consider myself a race car driver."

The notion of his return to the heights he experienced in the 1980s veers on absurd. But racing—not unlike drug distribution—is a multilayered organism. Lanier figures he'll start club racing at low level events and go up from there. Several months ago, after getting the O.K. from his probation officer, he entered a race in Ohio. "I was doing better than these kids!" he says. "The beauty of this sport is that the clock don't lie. If you still have it or if you've lost it, your time will let you know."

To prove this point Lanier rips off some more laps at Homestead, borrowing the Camaro. Once he puts on his helmet and straps in, his storytelling stops. Cruising on the straightaway is fun, but the real joy comes in the turns. He is in command, hitting the berms and apexes perfectly, shifting imperceptibly and throttling before he's onto the straight. As he drives his eyes occasionally flick to the rearview mirror. But mostly he stares ahead, through the windshield, into his future.

THE CIRCUIT WAS KNOWN FOR ITS DRUG CULTURE. INDY WINNER BOBBY RAHAL RECALLS THE RUNNING JOKE WAS THAT IMSA STOOD FOR INTERNATIONAL MARIJUANA SMUGGLERS ASSOCIATION.

HOW DID HE TOGGLE BETWEEN THESE TWO WORLDS? "IT WASN'T COMFORTABLE, I'LL TELL YOU THAT," HE SAYS. "IT WAS LIKE LEADING DOUBLE LIVES. A WHOLE BUNCH OF BETRAYAL AND LIES."

LAWYERS WARNED THE HIGHEST DRUG CHARGE CARRIED A PENALTY OF LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE. "YOU ENTER WEARING HANDCUFFS," HE SAYS, "AND YOU GO OUT IN A CASKET."

HE PLOTTED A SERIES OF ESCAPES IN HIS MIND BUT KEPT REACHING THE IRREDUCIBLE CONCLUSION: "YOU AIN'T GETTING AWAY FROM THE FEDS AT A MAX SECURITY PRISON."

SI TRUE CRIME

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. SPORTS INVESTIGATED.

SI TRUE CRIME

Randy Lanier's illicit double life is part of SI's ongoing true crime series, one per month, each enriched online with video and interactives. To further explore Lanier's story, or to read previous entries in the series, visit SI.com/lanier