Motorsports lost a true racer with the passing of Art Malone yesterday (March 29) at 76. While he is certainly best known for this prowess at the wheel of a top fuel dragster, his roots were in stock car racing in the Tampa area.
Malone’s close friend Don Garlits went drag racing but Art chose to build a flathead powered coupe and work the oval at Phillips Field in Tampa in the early and mid 1950s. Malone finally joined Garlits in the always exciting fuel cars on the drag strip but along the way the pull of the oval surfaced more than once.
In 1961 Malone drove Bob Osiecki’s Mad Dog converted winged Indy roadster over 180 mph at Daytona to take Bill France’s $10,000 prize for the first person to break the 180 mph barrier at the two year-old superspeedway.
Just a month later Malone’s Daytona success morphed into a one shot ride in a 1961 Petty Plymouth at Martinsville Speedway for the Old Dominion 500 where he finished eighth in the demanding 500 laps on the half-mile oval. Less than a year later it was back to Daytona for the Firecracker 250 where Malone drove Jack Smith’s backup 1962 Pontiac to a 10th place finish in the 100-lap July 4 NASCAR event. Malone started 13th in the 33 car field and certainly did himself proud. HIs NASCAR career was brief but successful and his days on an oval were far from finished.
While the Indianapolis 500 is no longer a dream for those who compete in oval racing, back in the day everyone envisioned themselves doing 500 miles at the famed Brickyard on Memorial Day. Malone was no different and in 1963 his dream came true.
Aboard one of the always stubborn Novi powered roadsters, Malone qualified 23rd in the 33 car field and only completed 18 laps before a failed clutch sent him to the sidelines. Undaunted by the early out of ’63, Malone came back a year later, again in a Novi, and qualified a disappointing 30th but brought his STP Studebaker backed entry home in 11th spot, a nice rebound from his initial attempt in the always challenging Hoosier classic.
In the early 1970s Malone paired with veteran driver Dick Hope to run a converted Indy roadster as a sprint car/supermodified at Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway. Malone achieved more in racing than many are aware of but he never forgot his roots and remained one of the sports really good guys until the end.
Rest in Peace Art and thanks for the memories.