The Racing Capital
of the World
April 01, 2013 | By Donald Davidson
Two-time Indianapolis 500 starter Art Malone died Friday, March 29 in Tampa, Fla. He was 76.
Malone was a star in drag racing who also competed in open-wheel racing and NASCAR. He also was the first to lap the Daytona International Speedway faster than 180 mph.
Both of Malone's Indianapolis 500 starts – 1963 and 1964 – came at the wheel of one of the legendary, supercharged V8 Novi cars, his assignment there coming as somewhat of a surprise at the time. Perhaps it was his breathtaking 181.561-mph lap Aug. 28, 1961 at Daytona which had drawn the attention of new Novi owner Andy Granatelli. Partnered with fellow drag racer Bob Osiecki, Malone had taken "Mag Dog IV" – a much-modified 413-cubic-inch Chrysler "Hemi"-powered Kurtis "roadster," which had recently served as Firestone's tire test car – and had manhandled it around the 2½-mile speedway more than fast enough to claim the $10,000 prize posted by Bill France for turning Daytona's first 180-mph lap.
Malone had finished 10th in NASCAR’s Firecracker 250 on July 4, 1962 at Daytona and had raced the short tracks around Tampa for years. But because Malone needed at least a couple of open-wheel, oval-track races under his belt before he could be permitted to tackle the Novi at Indianapolis, Granatelli supplied him with a dirt car for the 1962 season-ending events at Sacramento and Phoenix. He "missed the show" at Sacramento but qualified fifth at Phoenix.
Perhaps to the surprise of many, Malone qualified for the 1963 “500,” the first time three Novis had ever qualified for the same race. His Novi was quite distinctive due to the large triangular-shaped stabilizer fin mounted on its tail. Clutch trouble intervened even as the race was starting. After four pit stops in the first 18 laps, Malone was obliged to call it a day.
In 1964, he returned to pull off something which had been achieved only five times previously with a Novi. He was still running when the race ended, flagged off in 11th position with 194 laps completed. As a further historical footnote, Malone would be the last person ever to be running at the end of a “500” while driving a Novi.
Malone had a total of 10 USAC National Championship starts up through 1965, his final appearance coming in 1966 when he crashed Wally Weir's rear-engined Gerhardt in practice on the morning of the first qualifying day at Indianapolis and jumped out to reveal that he had elected to drive in stocking feet.
For many years, Malone’s drag racing shop in Tampa was located only a couple of blocks from the shop of the great “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. The pair had been tight friends ever since Malone was 8 years old. Garlits was older, but they both rode the same school bus.
Malone drove one of Garlits' famed "Swamp Rat" dragsters when Garlits was injured in the late 1950s, and the pair teamed up for a very emotional reunion in 1984 at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Going in as huge underdogs, they came out on top, Garlits winning the race.
Malone had not been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in many years when he returned in May 2011 for the 100th anniversary of the first running of the "500." The 500 Oldtimers Club was honoring the living drivers who could claim at least one "500" start in a front-engined car, and of the 14 survivors, Malone was one of nine on hand to be honored.
His attendance in 2011 at IMS was quite noteworthy. Just over a week short of his 75th birthday, Malone drove up from Tampa in a 45-foot motor coach, nursing a broken leg and towing a little "drive-around-town" vehicle behind the motor coach.
Two days later, on Saturday morning, May 28, there he was again as one of 161 "500" veterans who were on hand for that never-to-be-forgotten "class" photo taken in the Pagoda Plaza.
Malone is survived by his wife, Sandra; daughters, Stephanie and Pam; and four grandchildren. Calling hours are from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, April 2 at the Garden of Memories Chapel in Tampa, with a funeral at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 at the same location.