A Strange Reason to Follow a Driver

geothumbnail
There is no rational way to explain how or why a child will latch on to a name or an athlete to follow. When I was really starting to follow football, for whatever reason – I gravitated to Roman Gabriel, the quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams in the sixties. I don’t know if it was his name or those helmets, but to a kid in the third grade – No. 18 for the Rams in the sixties was about as cool as it could get.

Following the Indianapolis 500 as a kid was no different. Before I even went to my first race in 1965, I had already decided that Parnelli Jones was my favorite driver. My father had taken my brothers to the 1964 race and they came back with their program, which was celebrating the previous year’s winner – Parnelli Jones. Between that name and that beautiful paint job on Ol’ Calhoun, this kid was hooked. When I got there in 1965 and saw that unique gold Lotus he was driving, I knew who I was for. While my brothers and father were pulling for AJ Foyt, I was pulling for Parnelli Jones. He came in second.

As I grew older and the sixties marched on, I followed more and more drivers. As usual – for kids and adults – some I liked better than others. By 1967, I had joined my brothers and was a converted Foyt fan, although I really liked Parnelli’s turbine car.

Like most kids, I tended to follow not only the big-name drivers, but also the drivers that my father and brothers liked. My brothers really liked Dan Gurney, but my father was a big Lloyd Ruby fan. Consequently, I was a big Lloyd Ruby fan.

But as I said, there are some drivers that kids learn to follow for the strangest reasons. In 1968, all the big-name drivers were there. Foyt, the Unsers, Gurney, Ruby, Joe Leonard, Graham Hill, Johnny Rutherford and Gordon Johncock; to name just a few. But there was an obscure rookie in the field that I immediately took a liking to, just because I like the way Tom Carnegie bellowed his name over the PA – Jim Malloy.

JM3

The very first time I heard it, Malloy was going out on his qualifying run on Pole Day. I don’t think Tech was up toward Turn One in those days. It must’ve been around the Master Control Tower or perhaps even further north. The reason I say that is that we always sat in our normal seats in Stand A for Qualifying. Cars were already going at a pretty good clip in the pits by the time they were in front of us.

Just as Malloy was directly in front of where we were seated I remember Tom Carnegie saying “…anndd next out is JIMMMM…M’-loy”. He held the “m” in Jim forever to a crescendo, before barely acknowledging the first syllable in “Malloy” and then releasing the prolonged “loy”. For whatever reason, that struck the nine year-old me as great theater. I knew nothing about Jim Malloy, but because of the way Tom Carnegie belted out his name – I was immediately pulling for him. I suppose my thinking was that everyone needed an obscure underdog to pull for.

Malloy didn’t stay obscure very long. He peddled his Jim Robbins Vollstedt chassis around the track at a four-lap average speed of 165.032 mph – good enough to start fourteenth and be the fastest rookie driver in the field. Unfortunately, his day was cut short on Lap 64 with mechanical issues, and he finished twenty-second.

Malloy 68

In 1969, Malloy returned with Jim Robbins and improved his qualifying to starting thirteenth in the race, and finished eleventh – just out of the Top-Ten. I found myself keeping up with this relatively unknown driver, simply because I liked the sound of his name the first time I heard it. Is that strange, even for a nine year-old?

Jim Malloy had been born in Columbus Nebraska, but moved to Colorado at an early age. He attended classes at Colorado State before he started racing Semi-Modifieds at the age of twenty-three at Lakeside Speedway in Denver. In 1962, he began racing in CAMRA, the Canadian American Modified Racing Association that produced future IndyCar drivers such as Art Pollard, Dick Simon, Tom and Jerry Sneva, Billy Foster and Eldon Rasmussen.

1967 saw Malloy driving USAC sprints before Jim Robbins hired him to drive USAC Champ cars. He drove for Robbins at Indianapolis in 1968 and 1969 before moving on to the Federal Automotive Associates in 1970, driving a Gerhardt. What started as a very promising month, with a ninth place starting position, ended very quickly – before the drop of the green flag. Coming out of Turn Four with the green flag in sight, a drive shaft broke sending Malloy into the outside wall. He was uninjured, but his day was done before it even got started. He finished thirty-third that day.

It’s funny how fate works sometimes. 1971 began like a bad dream for Malloy. His M.V.S. Special, which was a Morris chassis powered by Ford, could not get up to speed. NASCAR’s Lee Roy Yarbrough had been signed to drive for Dan Gurney. However, he was seriously injured and would not be healed in time for the race. Gurney tabbed Jim Malloy to drive the car originally intended for Yarbrough. Malloy rewarded Gurney by qualifying tenth and finishing fourth.

Malloy 71

Having shown patience and speed in 1971, Don Gerhardt hired Malloy for 1972 to drive the No. 16 Thermo-King Special. It was one of the brand-new Eagles designed by Roman Slobodinsky for 1972 that had been obliterating the speed charts all month. Bobby Unser put one of the Eagles on the pole that year and increased the pole speed by more than 17 mph over the previous year’s record pole speed.

Malloy 72

Malloy had been fast all month. Many drivers had been trying to break the elusive 200 mph barrier all month, and Malloy was one of them. On Fast Friday, the day before Pole Day, Malloy was on a hot lap entering Turn Three. In a scenario eerily reminiscent of Sébastien Bourdais on his qualifying run in 2017, Malloy’s Eagle suddenly veered to the right and he hit the outside retaining wall practically head-on. The entire car buckled, pinning the unconscious Malloy in the cockpit. The car skidded to a stop in the infield section between Turns Three and Four. It took the safety crew at the time thirty minutes to remove Malloy from the cockpit.

Jim Malloy was transported to Methodist Hospital. For four days, he remained unconscious before he succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday May 18, 1972 – forty-eight years ago today – at the age of thirty-nine, just five days shy of his fortieth birthday. He was survived by his wife Mary, and their three young children; Jim, Cheryl and Pat – ages eight through fourteen.

By this time, I was thirteen years-old. We went to Pole Day that next day, but I never heard a thing about Malloy’s accident the day before. Since he was my obscure driver, I searched for his name in the program and saw his name listed as entered in Car Number 16 – but I never heard a word about it that day. Information didn’t travel much back then, and terrible crashes weren’t really talked about by fans at the track. Malloy was still alive at the time, but was lying in a coma about seven miles away at Methodist Hospital. It wasn’t until later the next week that I saw a little blurb in the sports section of our local paper that Jim Malloy had passed away from injuries suffered in a crash the week before.

I can remember just staring at that headline. I didn’t cry or wince. I just sat there staring at the paper as it was spread open on our den floor. I remembered wondering why I had kept up with a driver no one knew much about. Being older, I realized how strange it was that I had latched onto Jim Malloy just because of the way his name sounded over the loud-speaker when I was nine.

By this time, I had grown to appreciate the Indianapolis 500 and had already started reading up on the history of the great drivers of the past. I had learned of many of the great names that had given their lives at the track, but I had also been made aware that there were many names that most had never heard of that had also met their demise at IMS. At that moment, I realized that Jim Malloy would always be part of that second category – the lesser names of those that had been fatally injured at Indianapolis.

Take a moment to think of Jim Malloy today, and the other forgotten names that have lost their lives in the quest for glory at Indianapolis.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “A Strange Reason to Follow a Driver”

  1. Bruce B Says:

    I always had a soft spot pulling for Al Loquasto in the Frostie Root Beer Special! An underdog entry with Clint Brawner working with him. Another was Jim McElreath…. 👍

  2. billytheskink Says:

    In addition to being a nice remembrance of the oft-overlooked Malloy, this reminds me as well of what a treasure Tom Carnegie was and what a powerful figure he was in shaping the racing fandom of so many.

    It is funny the things that can cause us to root for (or even against) a driver. I took to cheering for Jeremy Mayfield in NASCAR back in the 90s for no better reason than that he was sponsored by RC Cola.

  3. Patrick Says:

    A very touching story, George. I was there the day Jim Malloy crashed. I have also read about the deaths of some of my favorite drivers in the newspaper, so I understand the feeling.

  4. Sigh… Roman Gabriel. He was one of my faves too. Met him and Jack Snow when I was in junior high at the grand opening of the Gardena branch of United California Bank. He and Jack were very patient and kind. Seeing him and the Rams in the LA Coliseum in those days was indeed a treat.

    We did not follow racing in my house growing up. I did know who Parnelli Jones was because he was our local hero of the South Bay. Could hear from our home the racing at Ascot Park every night it was open.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    The first 500 I covered was 1972. I was a sports writer carrying Dad’s Kodak Retina Automoatic III camera. As what was left of Malloy’s car was brought back to the garage area I captured a couple of photos of it. There was a lot of fire damage around what was left of the seat. There were parts of the front dangling forward of the seat, but nothing that was easily recognizable. Those are images I will never forget. Probably because of that, the name Jim Malloy has been as prominent to me as all the well known greats from that time forward.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: