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On the Road: Meet Maddie Malone

It’s no secret that life-long relationships are a huge part of drag racing, and I was reminded of that just recently when I sat down with a couple of friends in Alabama to talk racing. I recall meeting Maddie Malone when she was just a kid, racing in Jr. Dragster, and doing quite well. I interviewed her once at Huntsville Dragway, and she told me how she won the first drag race she ever entered…and then placed runner-up in the second. “I had way too much confidence after that!” she laughingly told me. 

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #186, the Photo Annual Issue, in Jan/Feb of 2024.]

Drag racing can be a cruel dance partner, and yes, she got beat like a drum a few times afterwards, but also ended up winning multiple season championships, so I suppose she did far more winning than losing. 

And then there’s Kenny Ford, whom I’ve known for so long I can’t even remember the exact details of how it all started, and likewise, Maddie has known him for well over half her life, even calls him “Grandpa Kenny.” When Maddie turned 16, her parents gave her a 1966 Chevy II…and Kenny gave her a job working at Performance Torque Converters, the business he founded back in 1995. 

They threw a party for her 16th birthday, and according to Kenny, “She cried like a little baby when they gave her the Chevy II!” Maddie’s parents even bought the car from Kenny, and it was hardly a showpiece…it was nearly down to the metal, but Maddie was over the moon with excitement. “I saw the potential in it,” she told me. Indeed, with a lot of love and busted knuckles and many late nights, Maddie and her dad, Clint, transformed the car into a beautiful and competitive race car that Maddie named “Goldilocks” after Kenny persuaded her to paint it gold. 

Maddie worked at PTC for a while, then left and came back for a second tour before taking a job working for her daddy. One way or another, she’s been hanging out in race shops since she was about 10 years old. “From a very early age, she wanted to be a drag racing star, and she’s done well,” smiles Kenny. 

Maddie has always hung around adults. Even as a kid that was just her style, and she’ll flat out tell you that most of her friends are twice her age or older. She used to love going on racing expeditions with Kenny and his wife, LaGail, and their daughter, Deda. “I would be on the road with them for eight hours and I learned a lot of life lessons from them,” she recalls. When Maddie was a teenager she had a boyfriend who commented, “You only hang around old people!” She dumped him in short order. 

Maddie always saw the value in learning from “wise old owls” like Kenny Ford…not to mention, older people usually have things like extra trailers…should you ever need to borrow one. “Maddie and her daddy trade trucks and trailers more than anybody I know!” laughs Kenny. 

Such was the case in the days leading up to Donald Long’s No Mercy event in South Georgia last October. Maddie wanted to enter Goldilocks in the 6.00 class and mix it up with the best in the business, such as Kenny Ford, who also races his great-looking 1969 Plymouth Valiant in 6.00. Naturally, she was between trailers at the time, so exactly one day before the event, Clint and Maddie swung by PTC to grab a trailer from Kenny, load Goldilocks, and head to South Georgia. They drove all night and slept a couple hours before first round. “That’s pretty typical of how we do it!” laughs Maddie. 

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When it came time for eliminations, Kenny and Maddie avoided each other all day, until it was, well, unavoidable. Quite fitting that these two would meet in the finals, but who could have ever guessed it? As with any final round, there were a few details to iron out beforehand. Kenny asked if she’d like to split the purse right down the middle, but Maddie suggested the winner get an extra hundred bucks. Kenny agreed. “What are we gonna do about lane choice?” Maddie inquired. Kenny had just the solution: “We ain’t gonna do nothing about lane choice…you’re going in the left lane!” he laughs. Kenny had just laid down a 6.004 in the prior round, so he knew the lane was his to pick. 

Nothing to do now but fire the engines! So here they are buckled in their race cars and inching into the beams, with a crowd gathered on the starting line to watch this epic battle of the ages. As the tree flashed green and the cars launched into the air, event announcer Wade Mooney began shouting, “Oh grasshopper, oh grasshopper!” The phrase dates back to the 1980s blockbuster movie Karate Kid and references a scene where the master was teaching the pupil. 

Kenny indeed left on her, but it wasn’t a gate job worth writing home about. “I wasn’t that good on the tree, and she was a little worse,” Kenny laughs. A few whacks of the throttle later, Kenny crossed the finish line first and took home the win. They parked their cars side-by-side in the winner’s circle, where Chris Simmons captured a memorable photo. It was the kind of memory that lasts a lifetime. 

Months later, these two had me laughing out loud as they retold the story as only they could, and even though their ages are separated by 44 years, what they treasure in life is amazingly similar. If you sit down and talk drag racing with these two, the conversation always strays back to how fortunate and blessed they are just to be able to spend time with family, doing what they love at the dragstrip.

This story was originally published on March 18, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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