This article first appeared on Hagerty.com on 22 November 2016
The genetics of addiction are complicated, but by all indications Tom Malloy inherited his dependence on speed from his father. Emmett Malloy’s drug of choice was auto racing and, as a result, Tom Malloy grew up around race cars and tracks. The seeds of his own obsession were planted at an early age.
Emmett built Carrell Speedway just south of Los Angeles and fielded Indy racing teams into the 1950s. Acutely aware of the dangers, he did his best to steer young Tom away from the world of racing, both through words and by example.
“Don’t ever let me catch you in a race car,” the senior Malloy warned his young son.
Years later, as racing drained his father both emotionally and financially, Tom vowed to himself that he would never let racing consume his own life.
Tom Malloy recounts this story as we sit in his present-day office in Southern California. That the floor-to-ceiling windows next to us provide a commanding view of Malloy’s collection of vintage race cars in the shop below – cars which he has raced all around the world for more than twenty years – is a twist that does not go unnoticed.
What would Emmett Malloy – who passed away in 1971 – think about his son’s passion for racing?
“The jury’s out on that, of course,” says Tom with a smile. “But he’d probably be pissed off.”
Emmett Malloy was an Iowa farm boy who moved west in the 1930s and settled in Inglewood, Calif. He made his money as an excavating contractor during the region’s post-war population boom, allowing him to not only provide a comfortable living for his wife and nine children but also to indulge his love of racing.
It was here in Los Angeles that Tom Malloy was born in 1939. As the third eldest – and first son – of those nine children, Tom was a permanent fixture at his father’s side.
“If I wasn’t sleeping or in school,” says Tom, “I was with my dad.”
From a young age, Tom showed both a mechanical aptitude and an appetite for learning every aspect of his father’s business, traits that Emmett recognized and encouraged. By the time Tom was eight years-old he was firing up the heavy equipment at his father’s shop and moving the huge machines around the yard, eager to join the world of these grown men who reshaped the earth.
Tom was similarly in awe of his father’s life in the racing world. In 1947, Emmett started hosting races at his Carrell Speedway, a half-mile dirt oval located on a flood-prone patch of land in Gardena that quickly became a hotbed of west coast racing. In any given week, races at Carrell might feature anything from sprint cars and stock cars to motorcycles and foreign sports cars. In 1948, Emmett paved the track.
Among the many legends who raced at Carrell were Johnny Parsons, Troy Ruttman, Marshall Teague, Frank Mundy, Jack McGrath and Parnelli Jones. The 1949 film The Big Wheel, starring Mickey Rooney, was set at Carrell Speedway, and some of the earliest stock car races held west of the Mississippi River were run on the Gardena oval.
For a young kid from Inglewood, this was a heady atmosphere, and Tom was in awe. On race days he would ride through the pits with his dad, never allowed to get out of the pickup cab but always absorbing the atmosphere and, not infrequently, catching sight of his heroes like Jack McGrath.
“It just didn’t seem possible that Jack McGrath was standing right there in front of me,” recalls Tom. “I mean, he’d been to Indy, and Indianapolis to me was like the Eiffel Tower – something that I knew existed but I figured I’d never see with my own eyes – and this guy had been there, he’d raced there and here he was standing in front me at my dad’s race track.”
Emmett Malloy’s involvement in the racing world went beyond the operation of a speedway: He also fielded his own racing team for many years. In fact, Troy Ruttman – who, in 1952 at the age of 22, became the youngest driver ever to win the Indy 500 (a record that still stands) – drove the so-called Malloy Special as an up-and-coming (and illegally young) teenage driver before graduating to the Agajanian team with which he won the Indianapolis 500.
Beginning in 1952, Emmett brought a team of his own to race in the Indy 500, and in 1954 Emmett pulled a fifteen year-old Tom out of school and took him along for the trip to the Brickyard. This was a time when cows still grazed in the track’s infield and when the restrooms were little more than plywood shanties that provided the barest semblance of privacy, but for Tom Malloy – who had grown up listening to broadcasts of the race on his radio – it was the culmination of his childhood dreams.
“All of sudden, not only am I at Indianapolis, but my dad has a car in the race,” says Tom. “Can you imagine? I had a childhood to die for, and my dad knew how much I loved this stuff and he shared it with me.”
The 1950s, however, were the most dangerous era in the history of motorsports. Following World War II, racing engines had quickly become extraordinarily powerful but suspension, brakes and safety precautions had not kept pace, creating a lethal package that led to such tragedies as Pierre Levegh’s 1955 Le Mans crash (that also cost 83 spectators’ lives), and the deaths of Bill Vukovich and Manny Ayulo at the 1955 Indy 500.
That Emmett Malloy forbid his own son from ever setting foot in a race car, then, is hardly surprising – and for many years, Tom obeyed, driven as much by watching his father struggle financially and emotionally due to the racing addiction as out of respect for the man’s wishes.
Beginning in the early 1980s, however, Tom began tiptoeing into racing. Initially, he sponsored various Indy teams and then, in the early 1990s, began driving himself. What began as a fun weekend for Tom in 1992 at the Skip Barber racing school in Sonoma, Calif., soon turned into an addiction of his own.
Twenty years later, Tom’s shop is not merely a collection of racecars and memorabilia, it is a volume of memories of races run – and won – in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The cars here include a Leyton House-liveried Porsche 962C, a Lola T70 MKIIIB, a Lola T-332, a Toyota Gurney Eagle MKIII GTP car, a Gurney Eagle Formula 5000 car, a 1951 Pankratz sprint car, a 1935 Miller Ford Indy car and a McLaren M8E Can-Am car, to name just a few.
With these years of racing, however, have come a few moments that would surely invite an “I told you so” from Emmett Malloy.
In 2000, Tom was racing his Lola T-332 at Road America when he made contact with another driver and crashed. The other driver was airlifted to a Milwaukee, Wis., hospital and Tom ended up breaking both legs. It was a crash that, by his own admission, Tom had no business surviving.
Why, then, does Tom continue racing? Quite simply, he says, it’s a drug, an obsession that comes from knowing there’s always a cleaner line through a certain curve, a more perfect lap to run. Once his mind begins fixating on such matters, it’s difficult for Tom to think of much else.
Tom also feels an obligation to honor these cars' heritage.
“These cars have such history and pedigree,” says Tom, “and I don’t want to dishonor their legacy. If I wasn’t capable of making these cars go pretty good I wouldn’t even get into them – that’s how much I think of each car.”
And so, nearly eighty years after Carrell Speedway first opened its gates, a Malloy can still be found at the local tracks. Emmett might not be happy that his son is racing on those tracks instead of operating them, but he would most certainly be proud.