Motorsport has a long history of being associated with law breakers and outlaws – NASCAR is built on the empire of illegal alcohol smuggling – but these ten individuals and teams take things to a new level.
Pablo Escobar – Cocaine in the fuel tank
Ol’ Pablo doesn’t really need much introducing. However, to put his drug empire into context, at its peak, Pablo and mates were smuggling 15 tonnes of cocaine worth more than half a billion dollars into the United States every day. This required purchasing US$2500 worth of rubber bands each week just to wrap the stacks of cash the cartel was raking in.
Turns out the world’s most famous drug kingpin also had a bit of oil running in his veins. Escobar started racing in a one-make Copa Renault 4 championship. The drug lord’s little Renault mysteriously had a clear advantage in a straight line compared to his rivals, and yet the stewards turned a blind eye. I wonder why…
Then Escobar decided he needed to step it up a level, buying a 1974 Porsche 911 RSR once raced by Emmerson Fittipaldi. This was modified with 935 slant nose bodywork, before Escobar’s day job caught up to him, ending his racing career.
IMSA in the ‘80s – A.K.A. The International Marijuana Smugglers Association
If you were competing in American sportscar racing in the 1980s, there was a good chance one of your competitors on the track was involved in drug smuggling.
So many former competitors were eventually convicted of drug running that IMSA earned the nickname The International Marijuana Smugglers Association.
Randy Lanier won the 1984 IMSA championship as an independent team, beating factory efforts, seemingly without sponsors. This was because Lanier was funding the team through a sophisticated marijuana smuggling scheme that involved speed boats and a specially modified barge.
The ’84 champ was convicted to life without parole in ’88, but was eventually released in 2014 for reasons undisclosed under sealed motions.
The Whittington Brothers, Don and Bill, are famous for winning the 1979 24 Hours of Le Mans outright in a Kremer K3 Porsche 935, alongside Klaus Ludwig. They too were involved in Lanier’s operation, and were eventually put in the slammer.
John Paul Sr was another IMSA champion that found himself on the wrong side of the law. Almost worthy of his own spot on this list, Paul Sr spent 15 years in prison for crimes varying from drug smuggling to shooting a Federal witness. In 2001 he disappeared on a boat while being sought for questioning by police over the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. Where he is today remains unknown.
Robert Boston – Either the best dad ever, or the worst
Parents spending exorbitant amounts of money on their children’s racing careers is nothing new, but Robert Boston takes that mindset to the extreme.
Boston was the co-founder of an electronics recycling business called Zloop. Boston started slinging million-dollar cheques to get his son Justin a drive for teams like Joe Gibbs Racing. Turns out, the teams should have asked where Boston was getting all that cash as he was defrauding his business partners to fund Justin’s racing career.
In 2018 Robert was sentenced to 10 years in prison for wire fraud, securities fraud and money laundering. Of Zloop's US$33 million revenue, Boston spent $25 million on his son’s racing, at a rate upwards of $5 million a year.
Scott Tucker – A not so gentlemanly racer
Scott Tucker built an empire on the debts of others, and used it to fund a decidedly average racing career.
Tucker ran a payday loan scheme that took advantage of some of the most vulnerable members of society, with predatory lending that included interest rates of up to 700 percent.
It's estimated Tucker personally profited to the tune of US$380 million from the scheme. He then used this to fund his vanity project of sportscar racing.
Tucker was sentenced to 16 years and 8 months in jail for racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering, and violations of the Truth In Lending Act.
James Munroe – The accountant that raced a McLaren
James Munroe decided to race in British GT in 1998, launching his campaign with much fanfare, and fielded a McLaren F1 GTR for the season.
Everything seemed to be going well, until a senior executive at the publisher McGraw-Hill noticed one of their accountants racing a multi-million-dollar car on TV.
It turns out Munroe had embezzled almost $8 million from his employer, resulting in him spending time in jail.
Upon release, Munroe did it again, defrauding his new employer to fund a luxury lifestyle, while trying to sell a rags-to-riches story about his life.
Vic Lee Motorsport – There’s always cocaine in the race truck
Vic Lee Motorsport, run by the eponymous Victor "Vic" Lee, competed in the British Touring Car Championship in the ‘90s.
VLM earned a reputation for testing at Zandvoort in the Netherlands regularly, which was strange for a British team competing in a British championship.
Turns out Vic Lee was using the team as a way to smuggle cocaine from the European mainland into the United Kingdom.
VLM would smuggle the cocaine by hiding it in nitrogen gas cylinders used to inflate tyres. The team would travel to the Netherlands, cut open the cylinders, fill them with bundles of cocaine, weld them shut, finish testing, and then return home.
In the end, Lee had smuggled almost $10 million worth of cocaine, earning himself a 12-year stint in jail.
Greg Loles – Jesus built my racing car (with stolen money)
The Farnbacher Loles racing team was on a roll in 2008. Fielding a Porsche in ALMS GT2 category, the squad were class champions that year, but by the end of the ’09 season they had disappeared.
Turns out the team co-founder Greg Loles was thrown in jail for 25 years. His crime? Duping a church and its congregation into a ponzi scheme to the tune of $27 million.
Loles stole as much as $14 million from a single family, using the money to fund his racing team.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael S. McGarry was brutal in his assessment of Loles. "What he did wound up ruining lives like a cancer eats away from someone's insides.”
Jeremy Mayfield – Fast racing, fast theft
A five-time winner in NASCAR’s top tier, Jeremy Mayfield was suspended indefinitely from the sport in 2009 for testing positive for methamphetamine.
But that’s not where it ends. A DEA investigation discovered over $100,000 worth of stolen goods at Mayfield's home. Amongst the items was audio equipment reported stolen by Red Bull Racing, surface plates from Fitz Motorsports, and heavy machinery stolen from Lee Family Real Estate.
For a period, the former NASCAR driver was facing 14 years in jail, but a number of charges were dropped with Mayfield pleading to two counts of misdemeanour possession of stolen property and one count possession of drug paraphernalia in 2014.
L.W. Wright – A free drive in NASCAR
While everyone else funded their racing through crime, or used racing as a front, L.W. Wright turned the very act of racing into a crime.
In 1982 a mystery driver from Nashville Tennessee wanted to compete at that year’s NASCAR Winston Cup race at Talladega. He was a 33-year-old named L.W. Wright, who claimed to have completed 43 races in NSASCAR’s premier category.
L.W. Wright wrote a number of cheques in order to secure a car and racing license before qualifying at 187mph for a race that saw a driver score pole at over 200mph for the first time. Mr Wright spun and crashed on his second lap, raising suspicions with the man who had sold him a car for $20,000, Bernie Terrell.
Turns out, L.W. Wright wasn’t the racing veteran he was made out to be. “He kept asking questions any driver should have known,” Terrel said.
L.W. Wright’s engine would expire by lap 13, but by the time the race ended, he was nowhere to be seen. All the cheques he had handed out to get himself into the race bounced, and multiple arrest warrants were issued.
Over 35 years later no one knows who L. W. Wright is, or where he is hiding out.