Northeast Dirt Modified Hall Of Fame To Honor Racing Photographer Ace Lane Jr.

Story By: BOB MARLOW / NORTHEAST DIRT MODIFIED HALL OF FAME – WEEDSPORT, NY – Acclaimed behind the lens as was his father before him, award-winning photographer John “Ace” Lane Jr. is the 2022 recipient of the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame’s Andrew S. Fusco Award for Media Excellence.

Lane will be honored, along with driver inductees and other award winners, at the 30th annual induction ceremonies on Wednesday, July 20, at the Hall of Fame and Museum, located on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.

The event is open to the public without charge.

The award is presented in memory of Hall of Fame board member and legal counsel Andy Fusco, who passed away in 2015. Previous recipients include publishers Lew Boyd and George Caruso Jr., editor Lenny H. Sammons, writers Don and JoAnn Davies, videographer Mel Thomas, and TV producer Tery Rumsey, but Lane is the first photographer to receive this award.

Lane follows his late father into the Hall, as John “Ace” Lane Sr. was posthumously honored with the Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing in 1995.

Ace Sr. first picked up photography while stationed in Sicily during World War II. Upon returning stateside, the sounds coming from Newmarket Speedway, not far from his home in Middlesex, NJ, drew his interest. He soon found that 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. were featured regularly in the pages of the now-defunct Illustrated Speedway News; when Area Auto Racing News debuted in 1963, an Ace Lane Sr. photo was featured on the front page. Ace Sr. became the track photographer at the Flemington Fairgrounds, and regularly caught the action at other area tracks.

From the age of five, Ace Lane Jr. shadowed his father at 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 movies for his father at Flemington, perched atop a stepladder in the track’s infield parking area. For the wintertime indoor TQ Midget races at the Teaneck Armory, his father placed him in the seats near the third turn. At Langhorne, he filmed for his dad from inside the third turn.

After the races, father and son would rush to the darkroom at their home in South Plainfield to develop the film and print the best shots to get them to the Courier News and the Star-Ledger by deadline. Even before he reached the legal age to be permitted in the pits at the local speedways, Ace Jr. was shooting 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. Although deprived of many more years working alongside his personal hero and primary mentor, Ace Jr. was by this point well-positioned to pick up the torch and establish a Lane family heritage.

But it was not a given that the son would assume the father’s duties. Just as racers must prove themselves by winning, Lane Jr. had to prove himself worthy of the respect of speedway operators and racing publishers.

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 did not take long. In time, Ace Jr. was—like his father had been—the leading shooter at Area Auto Racing News and the track photographer at the Flemington Fairgrounds. And not long afterwards, photographs by 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 did pursue opportunities in Go-Karts, TQ Midgets, Midgets and Sportsman stock cars, claiming a limited number of victories. But then as now, racing was an expensive endeavor, and Lane was not able to secure the necessary backing for a sustained effort.

He did, however, achieve success as a racing promoter, operating the Go-Kart series at the Flemington Fairgrounds for many years. Among the young drivers who came through the Flemington series was a third-generation driver from nearby Nazareth, PA, by the name of Marco Andretti.

In 1997, Ace Lane Jr. prevailed upon Program Dynamics publisher Steve Barrick to produce a book of his father’s racing photography. Utilizing the original negatives, Ace made new prints of hundreds of vintage photographs. With the assistance of Barrick, Earl Krause and Bob Marlow, The Auto Racing Photo Journal of Ace Lane, Senior came off the presses the following year. Now a collector’s item, the book is, in words of Ace Jr., “the telling of the true story of my father.”

It is all in the family: Ace Lane Sr. won the Eastern Motorsports Press Association’s Photographer of the Year award in 1972 and, following his passing, 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, picked up cameras. Making it three generations, EMPA presented J.J. with his grandfather’s award in 2018. Tragically, the immensely popular J.J. Lane passed unexpectedly in 2020 at the age of 38, just as he was fulfilling his promise as the family’s next great photographer.

Incidentally, the nickname “Ace” was first given to Lane Sr. because of his uncanny ability to excel at 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 as Ace Jr. is talented in ways beyond photography. He was a successful high school wrestler, a builder of winning RC cars and Go-Karts, and skilled behind the wheel.

But photography has provided his greatest reward. The thousands of iconic images Ace has captured during the past six decades—soul-baring portraits, frozen-in-time flip sequences, the glory moments and the gory moments—are now indelibly etched in memory, documenting the history of our sport.

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