10 Questions with…Russ Lake Legendary Racing Photographer

How did you get into racing?
My dad, who worked at Allis Chalmers ran the Milwaukee Mile for the promoter from ‘29 until….whenever. I’d go with him; the first picture I ever had published, in the Milwaukee Sentinel, was taken at The Mile in ‘51. I was 15 years old. They sent me a check for $7.50. They still pay $7.50, if anything (laughs). My dad introduced me to Army Krueger, who was the photographer for the National Speed Sport News. I thought of him as the premier photographer in racing. He took me under his wing and taught me an awful lot.

What do you like about Slinger Super Speedway?
It’s the fastest, high-banked ¼ mile anywhere. And I’ve been chased by racecars there.

Speaking of that, did any ever catch you?
In ‘71 the photo stand at Indy was hit by the pace car, when I was standing on it. [How did that happen?!?] Well, it went out of control. The pace car is out there to pace the cars, then get off on the apron. The guy driving it had someone in the penthouse taking movies (nobody knows this…) and he wanted them to follow him to the start-finish line. But, he didn’t have enough time to stop, and hit the photo stand. I was in the hospital for 6 weeks with a broken leg and shattered hip. (Link to crash https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0gqP-ba9z0&fbclid=IwAR1t1eu03ifgfgFFKQ-YAOM42i1j5hZdl8o0nZWau-Lmgr8TZYxJb42f0R0 )

Do you still take pictures?
I’ve taken pictures for 68 years, and a couple of them were good ones. To be a racing photographer, you need to move fast. I’m 83 years old; I don’t move fast.

How many tracks would you estimate you have taken pictures at? Which one was your favorite?
I don’t know…50? I never went west, but have been around Michigan, and toTalladega, Bristol… The Indy 500 is my favorite; I enjoyed the roadsters! I’ve been credentialed there for over 50 years. My dad worked there from ‘36 to ‘96 and my brother is an observer there now and for 40 some years.

Do you remember the first driver you really got to know?
Jack McGrath is the first driver I got to know well. He’d let me hang around the track with him for the day, and he called me “Rusty”.

What are you up to these days?
I’m not doing much of anything. My back and hip are bothering me. Pretty soon we are going to start working on my book. It will be a photo book – 68 years of racecars. The first chapter will have a little story on my dad and how I got started. Each decade will have a chapter.

Tell us about the charity work you have done.
I started Wisconsin Motorsports Charities in ‘91 and with help from David Hobbs we raised hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing banquets.

If people want to get copies of pictures you took, how can they contact you?
Email russlake@wi.rr.com

Which Slinger driver (past or present) do you have the most respect for?
Mouse [Miles Melius] – He knew me and I knew him. There’s so many drivers I knew…but I’m 83 and my memory is not as good as it used to be.