Speed Part of the Palette for Art Professor
By Doug Boyd
Crawling around on gravel and asphalt adjusting shock absorbers and clutch linkages, then putting on an insulated firesuit and full-face helmet may not seem like the ideal way to spend a hot September Saturday. But for Mark Malley, the best way to describe it was almost a cliché.
“It’s a gas.”
That’s how Malley summed up driving his 28-year-old race car with a group of other men and women who are, for the most part, just out there for the fun and friendship.
Malley, an assistant professor of art at East Carolina University, was racing his 1979 PRS RH01 Formula Ford in the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s annual Fall Festival at Virginia International Raceway Sept. 27-30.
Since his youth, Malley has had high-speed aspirations and has come closer to achieving them than many who shared the same dreams. He attended his first race in 1957 at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.
The sight and sound of sports cars lapping the course were all he needed to get racing in his blood.
“That was big,” Malley said. “Had to have it. A lot of my paintings back then were of race cars and the people.”
In the 1970s, after studying in England, Scotland and Ireland and following racing there, Malley was teaching in Bridgeport, Conn., when he decided to give professional racing a shot. “I said, ‘It’s now or never.’”
“I didn’t have children or that responsibility,” he said.
On weekends and during the summer, he raced open-wheel cars for a small team with some success. He competed against the likes of Davy Jones, Arie Luyendyk and Michael Andretti, all of whom went on to race at venues such as Le Mans, Indianapolis (where Luyendyk won twice) and in Formula 1.
|Mike Ehlbeck and Mark Malley of the School of Art and Design adjust the suspension on Malley’s racecar during a vintage car race at Virginia International Raceway Sept. 29.
While his team performed well, it lacked the funding to achieve regular success. Children and a career intervened, and Malley left racing.
But racing rarely leaves a person. In 2000 – on April Fools Day, to be exact – Malley bought a 1975 Chevron B29 Formula Atlantic car. His sons, Patrick and Timothee, were out of school, and racing was something they could do together, meeting at tracks since they lived up and down the East Coast.
In 2003, Malley crashed the Chevron at Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia, breaking his back and bending the chassis of the car. After recovering from his injury and rebuilding the car, Malley sold it this year to a buyer in Australia.
Now he races the PRS Formula Ford he bought about five years ago. It’s powered by a 1,600-cc four-cylinder Ford engine and weighs just 930 pounds. The car won 27 races in 29 starts in 1979. In the SVRA, he races in a class for small-engined, open-wheel cars.
The Fall Festival at VIR, a 3.27-mile course just across the state line from Milton, N.C., is his only event so far this year. Malley has been busy guiding students working on a mural depicting the history of Princeville, and that’s left little time for racing.
Before heading to VIR, Malley traveled to Pennsylvania to pick up his engine from a shop there. After reinstalling the engine, his car had transmission problems. Malley couldn’t use all his gears on VIR’s long straightaways, hurting his lap times.
While he never solved the gearbox troubles, he still managed to finish third in his class.
Competitor and friend Mark Harmer, who races a Brabham BT-21 formula car, was parked next to Malley in the paddock area at VIR. “You get hooked,” Harmer said of vintage racing. “Once you start, it’s like a drug. You get to come down here, spend a lot of money and make a lot of friends.”
Malley sees similarities between racing and art. Many people look at race cars, some with sharp angles, others with flowing curves, most all with sparkling paint and polished mechanics, and see works of art. The euphoria and reward one feels after taking crates of parts and assembling them into a working machine compares to the thrill of finishing a painting, Malley said. The hand-eye coordination and mental visualization required to put brush to canvas are similar to the skills needed to project oneself through a series of tight turns and down a fast straightaway, he said.
In addition, he said, the necessary attention to detail, commitment and repetition are similar to teaching.
“Teaching is a craft, like driving a racecar is a craft,” he said. “The car’s really a metaphor for my alter ego, if you will, or spirit.”