It was 1961 and no one had broken the 180-mph barrier at Daytona International Speedway.
A racing promoter offered $10,000 to anyone who could break that milestone at Daytona's high-banked 2 1/2–mile tri-oval, which had opened two years earlier and was considered treacherous.
Tampa's Art Malone got behind the wheel of an open-cockpit racer and promptly turned a lap of 181.561 mph, winning the money and national notoriety.
"Art lived life large," said his childhood friend, Don "Big Daddy" Garlits, the founder of the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala. "He did what he wanted to do the way he wanted to do it."
Malone's career as a racer blossomed as he was comfortable in different formats, including dragster, stock car and open-cockpit racer. In 1962, 1963, and 1964, Malone drove a Novi car, a type of roadster, in the Indianapolis 500.
Malone was inducted in the 1990s into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala. He would continue to promote the sport as owner of Bradenton's DeSoto Dragstrip.
Malone, who was born and raised in Tampa, died at his home March 29 from heart failure. He was 76.
"He was a man's man," said his wife, Sandra Malone. "There was not a stronger man on this earth."
He survived crashes and once suffered a broken neck racing in California and didn't know it, she said.
"He didn't allow pain to keep him from doing his job," Sandra Malone said. "His job was racing. …. He won most of the time. I don't know many times he lost."
Malone met Garlits, his lifelong friend and racing companion, growing up in Tampa and attending Twin Lakes Elementary.
The friendship grew from there.
Malone talked Garlits out of retirement in 1984 and convinced him to drive in the National Hot Rod Association championships in Indianapolis. He sponsored Garlits, buying him $20,000 worth of parts to rehabilitate the car he was going to use in the race.
Garlits won the NHRA U.S. National in Indianapolis in 1984. They formed a team and also won in 1985 and 1986, Garlits said.
"He was real smart," Garlits said. "He was always thinking. He was a real hard worker. He'd work 24/7 if he had to. He was a real tough guy."
Malone is survived by his wife, Sandra Malone of Tampa; two daughters, Stephanie Malone of Shady Hills and Pam Malone of Wesley Chapel, and grandchildren.