Modified Bob Marlow Northeast Dirt Museum and Hall of Fame
Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of profiles submitted by the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame in Weedsport of the winners for this year’s induction ceremony:
Acclaimed behind the lens like his father before him, award-winning photographer John “Ace” Lane Jr. is the 2022 recipient of the Andrew S. Fusco Award for Media Excellence from the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame. Lane will be honored, along with inductees and other honorees, at the 30th Annual Induction Ceremony on Wednesday, July 20 at the Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway.
The event is open to the public free of charge.
The award is given in memory of Hall of Fame board member and legal counsel Andy Fusco, an Auburn resident who died in 2015. Previous recipients include publishers Lew Boyd and George Caruso Jr., the editor Lenny H. Sammons, writers Don and JoAnn Davies. , videographer Mel Thomas and television producer Tery Rumsey, but Lane is the first photographer to receive this award.
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Lane follows his late father down the hall, as John “Ace” Lane Sr. posthumously received the Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Motor Racing in 1995.
Ace Sr. began photographing while stationed in Sicily during World War II. Upon his return to the United States, the sounds coming from Newmarket Speedway, not far from his home in Middlesex, NJ, caught his interest. He soon discovered he could combine his interest in photography with his interest in racing, and his Hall of Fame career was launched.
Images captured by Lane Sr. appeared regularly in the pages of the now defunct Illustrated Speedway News; when Area Auto Racing News debuted in 1963, a photo of Ace Lane Sr. appeared on the front page. Ace Sr. became the track photographer at Flemington Fairgrounds and regularly captured the action at other area tracks.
From the age of five, Ace Lane Jr. followed his father on the speedways. Some of his earliest memories include watching stock cars at Hinchliffe Stadium and Midgets at the Polo Grounds. Before long, he was shooting 8mm films for his father in Flemington, perched atop a stepladder in the track car park. For the TQ Midget indoor winter races at the Teaneck Armory, his father put him in the seats near the third corner. At Langhorne he filmed for his father from inside the third corner.
After the races, father and son would rush into the darkroom at their South Plainfield home to develop the film and print out the best shots to send to the Courier News and Star-Ledger before the deadline. Before he was even of legal age to be allowed in the pits of local speedways, Ace Jr. was pulling in tandem with his father and beginning to form his own style.
Sadly, Ace Sr. passed away suddenly in 1973, at the too young age of 53. Though deprived of many more years working alongside his personal hero and primary mentor, Ace Jr. was at this point well positioned to pick up the slack. and establish a Lane family heritage.
But it was not certain that the son would assume the functions of the father. Just as racers have to prove themselves by winning, Lane Jr. had to prove himself worthy of the respect of speedway operators and racing editors.
With endorsements from well-established colleagues including Walter Chernokal and Sam Rosenberg, and armed with a Bachelor of Science degree from Montclair State College, it didn’t take long. In time, Ace Jr. was – as his father had been – Area Auto Racing News’ main shooter and track photographer at Flemington Fairgrounds. And soon after, photographs of Ace Lane Jr. began to appear nationally, in Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel magazines, and in National Speed Sport News.
“But I always wanted to race,” he admitted, and pursued opportunities in stock car Go-Karts, TQ Midgets, Midgets and Sportsman, earning a limited number of wins. But then as now, racing was an expensive business, and Lane was unable to garner the support needed for a sustained effort.
He did, however, find success as a racing promoter, operating the Go-Kart series at Flemington Fairgrounds for many years. Among the young drivers who came through the Flemington series was a third-generation driver from nearby Nazareth, Pennsylvania named Marco Andretti.
In 1997, Ace Lane Jr. convinced Program Dynamics publisher Steve Barrick to produce a book of his father’s racing photographs. Using the original negatives, Ace made new prints of hundreds of vintage photographs. With the help of Barrick, Earl Krause and Bob Marlow, Ace Lane’s The Auto Racing Photo Journal, Senior rolled off the presses the following year. Now a collector’s item, the book is, in the words of Ace Jr., “the telling of my father’s true story.”
It’s all in the family: Ace Lane Sr. won the Eastern Motorsports Press Association’s Photographer of the Year award in 1972, and after his death the organization renamed the award in his honor. Ace Jr. won the award twice, in 1978 and 1998. Continuing the family legacy, two of Lane Jr.’s sons, Tommy and John John, took to the cameras. Spanning three generations, EMPA presented JJ with his grandfather’s award in 2018. Tragically, the immensely popular JJ Lane unexpectedly passed away in 2020 at the age of 38, while fulfilling his promise as the next great family photographer.
Incidentally, the nickname “Ace” was first given to Lane Sr. due to his incredible ability to excel in a variety of pursuits, including sports, carpentry, and music. Ace Jr. was commonly known as Johnny growing up, but proudly assumed his father’s nickname upon his passing. It’s appropriate because Ace Jr. is talented beyond photography. He was a successful high school wrestler, builder of winning RC cars and go-karts, and skilled behind the wheel.
But photography provided its greatest reward. The thousands of iconic images Ace has captured over the past six decades – moving portraits, time-lapse flip sequences, moments of glory and moments of bloodshed – are now indelibly etched in memory, documenting the history of our sport.