Russ Lane spent his life in motorsports turning left and right, whether it was in go-karts, autocross, or road racing. In February he moved to the heart of NASCAR country to chase his dream of racing for living. The 23-year-old took a job on an ARCA Menards Series team, bought a race car, and now looks to get behind the wheel for select ARCA events.
“Oval racing has been something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Lane, 23, formerly of Overland Park, Kansas.
“When I got the [ARCA car], I looked for teams that could maintain it because I knew hardly anything about oval racing,” Lane said. “I found Empire [Racing Group], and they gave me too good of a deal to pass up.”
That deal included a job for Lane at Empire.
“I was a mechanic for five years before I moved [to North Carolina],” said Lane. “During the week, I’m one of the mechanics who gets the cars ready.”
One of those cars is Lane’s.
“The hardest thing for me was picking a team that I trusted to keep up with the car,” Lane said. “I picked a good one with Empire — I’m the one working on [my car]. I’m grateful to be with a development team where knowing the mechanics of the car is just as important to them as how I’m driving the car.”
Lane made his oval-track debut at Pocono Raceway last month. Unlike most ovals, Pocono, dubbed the “Tricky Triangle,” features three distinctly different corners.
“Each turn was completely different — from turn in, to apex point, to turn out,” said Lane. “With having the knowledge of [what] you have to do for each turn [on a road course], it benefited me in that race. I was able to catch on a lot faster.”
Adding to the uniqueness of Pocono is its front straightaway — the longest in North America.
“I’ve never been that fast in my life,” Lane said. “That was absolutely awesome.”
“I’ve never driven a car even with half the horsepower of [an ARCA] car,” said Lane. “The Mustang, with an empty gas tank, is 3,300 lb. The ARCA car is 3,400 lb.”
Lane noted a key difference between ovals and road courses.
“It took me a full day just to get used to using the banking to my advantage to get faster lap times,” Lane said. “The way the car leans in the middle of the turn is completely different [than with the American Iron car on a road course].”
Lane adapted quickly. His times placed him 11th in practice. However, a busted oil line ended his race prematurely at lap 28.
Russ Lane returns to driver’s seat this weekend. He’ll venture to Kansas Speedway — a venue he considers his home track on the ARCA circuit. He hopes to use his experience in ARCA to rise up the ranks of stock car racing.
“I would like to end up in the [NASCAR] Cup Series as a driver,” said Lane. “I would be okay with being a crew member. I don’t care which series I land in as long as I get paid so my only job is driving a race car. I’ve been jumping between IMSA and NASCAR for a while, but I felt NASCAR had the better gig.”
The Outside Groove Executive Editor has covered motorsports since 2000. His many awards include the 2019 Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) Jim Hunter Writer of the Year and the 2013 Russ Catlin Award for Excellence in Motorsports Journalism.