Art Malone, a legendary figure in drag racing and other motorsports, passed away today at the age of 76. His passing reduces the number of surviving drivers to have raced front-engined cars in the Indianapolis 500.
NHRA.com published the following appreciation of this pioneering racer. -Ed.
Art Malone, left. partnered with Don Garlits in late 1984, leading to "Big Daddy's" resurgence in Top Fuel the rest of the decade.
Art Malone, a legendary figure in drag racing and other motorsports, died March 29. He suffered severe injuries in an airboat crash a few years ago and never fully recovered.
Few automotive racers have enjoyed a more varied and exciting career than Malone, who not only was a successful dragstrip owner and Top Fuel campaigner, but also gained fame as a driver at the legendary Indy 500.
Malone was also instrumental in providing financial assistance to longtime friend Don Garlits for his return to NHRA competition in the mid-1980s, a move that set the stage for “Big Daddy's” three straight NHRA U.S. Nationals Top Fuel victories (1984-86) and back-to-back NHRA Top Fuel championships (1985-'86).
Raised in Tampa, Fla., Malone got his first taste of drag racing when he and a group of teenage buddies made the trek to the West Coast to attend the first NHRA event in Pomona in 1953. Upon returning to Florida, he began staging races at Henderson Airfield in Tampa, charging 25 cents a head to cover the cost of trophies for the winners.
After substituting as a driver for Garlits, who was recovering from burns suffered during a June 20, 1959, engine explosion, Malone began Top Fuel match racing on his own. He soon ventured into the world of circle-track competition, where he became the first driver to exceed 180 mph on an oval course with a 181.561-mph lap at Daytona Int'l Speedway in 1961.
In early 1963, upon the recommendation of NHRA founder Wally Parks, Malone was introduced to Andy Granatelli, who later hired him to drive his beloved V8-powered Novi in the Indy 500. He qualified for the 1963 and 1964 events and finished 11th in the latter. Following a brief stint with Funny Cars in the late 1960s, Malone continued to race in Top Fuel until he retired from active driving in 1975.
He later operated a pair of Florida racetracks under NHRA sanction, Sunshine Dragstrip and DeSoto Memorial Speedway.