Much was made of David Malukas’ late-race charge in Saturday night’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at World Wide Technology Raceway, but the 20-year-old rookie driver was quick to credit his spotter, former driver Pancho Carter, for the advice to try the high line.
Malukas used that coaching to pass Scott McLaughlin for second place on the last lap of the race, and he was closing in on race leader Josef Newgarden coming to the checkered flag of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline.
“Pancho (was) like, ‘Go get ‘em, last lap, there’s two (laps) left,’” said Malukas, the driver of the No. 18 HMD Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD who started the race 13th and was fifth when the 37-lap shootout began. “It was a bit unfortunate that I did it so late, but I guess rookie season, rookie stuff. I’m going to put it in the back of my brain and remember it for next time.”
Rest assured, Carter will be there to remind him.
Carter is as old school as racing gets, a no-nonsense type who will get in his driver’s ear so deep he’ll want to shut the radio communication off.
Years ago, when Tomas Scheckter was driving for Panther Racing, the series was at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Scheckter wasn’t getting close enough to the white line to suit Carter, who knew that to be the quickest way around the oval. Scheckter thought he was as low as he needed to be, and temperatures rose.
“He didn’t believe me,” Carter said. “So, we went out and bought a video camera.”
There is no need to review the footage now. Carter was right, and Scheckter saw it.
Carter was right Saturday night, too, and he appreciated that Malukas listened to him. Carter, now 72, said Malukas, who is more reserved than most, is much like all the other drivers he has worked with over the years. He said the process of trusting the advice given by someone else takes time.
“(Drivers) are all different,” he said. “But finally, they start to figure out this guy might know what he’s talking about.”
Carter followed his father, Duane, an 11-time Indianapolis 500 starter, into the sport, and he, too, became a star, one of the best to ever drive a sprint car on dirt or pavement. He was the first driver in history to win all three of USAC’s top divisions – Midgets, Sprints and what is today know as Silver Crown – and he had a long career in INDYCAR. He and his father were inducted into the National Sprint Car and National Midget Halls of Fame.
Carter was the Indianapolis 500’s Rookie of the Year in 1974 after finishing seventh, and he was the driver immediately behind the memorable 1982 duel between Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears. Had they crashed together, he would have won the race because he was two laps ahead of Tom Sneva and Al Unser. Three years later, Carter won the pole for the “500” and the next year he competed in the Daytona 500, one of his 14 starts in the Cup Series. He competed in the Indy 500 on 17 occasions, with top-five finishes in 1975 and ’76.
Carter was such a charger that conserving fuel was foul language.
“To me, it’s a race car, and you’re supposed to run as hard as you can as long as you can,” he said.
Carter is in his third decade as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES spotter, with his sons, Dane and Cole, following him in the position. The list of drivers he has worked with includes Sam Hornish Jr., Vitor Meira and Dan Wheldon, and Santino Ferrucci when he won Indy’s Rookie of the Year Award in 2019. When Carter speaks, he expects his drivers to listen even if they don’t want to. Malukas said it wasn’t easy to adhere to that mandate initially.
“(The relationship) started off a bit rough because he’s very aggressive,” Malukas said of Carter. “I would do something stupid, (and) he’d be like, ‘That was really stupid, don’t do it again.’ Oh, that’s not nice, (but) I realized that is who Pancho is, and he really cares.”
Much was made of Malukas singing on the radio during the mundane part of Saturday’s race, but Malukas was smiling when he said Carter wasn’t much of a fan of it.
“Pancho was like, ‘Your singing is great, but can we go do something (on the track) – this is boring,’” he said. “Once we put the new set (of tires) on, we had a good strategy. Me and Pancho were having a lot of fun. He was telling me, ‘Go outside, go inside, cut across (the track).’ It went really well.
“We were having a good time. Thank you, Pancho. It was a lot of fun.”