Lee Zane’s crew chief has done an excellent job of making up for lost time. While most everyone else in the staging lanes has a long history in the sport, Marie Malone is a relative newcomer to drag racing. The New Jersey native only began attending events as a spectator in 2014, but barely more than a year later, she was setting rear tire pressure and pulling two-time NHRA Stock Eliminator champion Zane into the burnout box at bracket races and national events.
Malone has become a pillar of support for Zane, her partner in racing and life, in his motorsport endeavors. As a legal assistant with more than two decades devoted to her chosen field, Malone’s dedication and attention to detail translates perfectly to the race program on weekends.
Over the past five seasons, Malone has zealously embraced an increasing range of responsibilities. She manages everything from Racepak data to fuel check and a myriad of duties in between.
“I can’t say [drag racing] interested me at the very first, but once I experienced it, I realized how much I liked it,” Malone said. “I really grew to enjoy it, and now, I think I put my heart into it as much as Lee does.”
Zane is first in line to agree on that point.
“Having her as part of the program changed a lot,” Zane said. “I was kind of on my own for a long time. I did everything, and I was accepting of that. But having Marie involved and being able to hand over more and more to her each year has allowed me to really concentrate on driving.”
With two completely different racecars and two totally different styles of racing on their agenda in recent years, Malone has managed a steep learning curve. In early 2017, Zane reacquired the Buick Apollo in which he won the 2004 NHRA Stock championship and the 2003 and 2004 U.S. Nationals. Lately, he’s been bracket racing the Apollo while also continuing to navigate the Comp Eliminator class in a dragster.
Malone takes care of the tires, watches the weather, actively contributes to dial-in decisions, follows the ladder, and keeps Zane up to date on whether he’s entering a chase or be-chased situation.
“She remembers everything,” he said. “She’s got a checklist in her head that she runs at me while I’m preparing the car so we don’t forget anything. In this day and age where races are won by thousandths, there is no margin for error, and she’s on top of everything.”
Malone chimed in humbly and said, “I just enjoy being part of the team. I like that I can help and that he knows things are going to get done right.”
The two have logged a lot of practice as teammates, with racing occupying 20-25 weekends a year, but their ease in communication likely stems from an association that stretches all the way back to high school. In 1991, Zane and Malone attended prom together. Their lives soon went in opposite directions, but they crossed paths again 23 years later, and the timing was just right.
Although Malone smoothly stepped into her role on the race team, she acknowledged that it isn’t always easy. She jokingly lamented giving up beach weekends for the dragstrip and trading a beach tan for a racetrack tan, but beyond that, she wasn’t eager to tick off a list of complaints. After some probing, Malone admitted to a few challenges with the racing lifestyle, but they didn’t have much to do with procedure or technical things.
“At times, the emotion is difficult,” she said. “If he’s racing more than one class and loses in one, it becomes an emotional roller coaster. You’re trying to shake off that loss and get your head back in it to hopefully win in the next class. I also struggle when we’re doing well and breakage prevents us from being able to go any further. That happened to us at Indy this past year.”
Zane explained that the broken flywheel in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Nationals was tough for him, but Malone really took it to heart.
“I’ve been there and had things like that happen before,” he said. “It isn’t fun, and you’re disappointed, but it’s all part of the sport, unfortunately.”
The moments of enjoyment clearly outweigh those of discomfort for Malone, however. In fact, she’s having such a good time being part of the program that she might even consider getting in a racecar herself at some point – but only if the time was right and circumstances lined up.
“I wouldn’t know or understand the sport as well as I do now if it wasn’t for Lee’s patience,” Malone said. “He never makes me feel like I can’t ask a question, even if it’s already been asked and answered – especially with Comp Eliminator and how difficult that can be to understand. Lee is a great teacher, and if I ever did get into the seat of a car, I would trust him fully and know that he’s the best person to assist me.”
Zane has been at this racing deal for a long time. He brought both national and divisional championships into the relationship, along with a multitude of trophies. Malone has brought so much to his racing, though, that he’s looking more keenly at the future than the past.
“I couldn’t imagine doing this without her by my side,” he said.
“The only thing we haven’t accomplished together is winning a championship,” she said. “I would really like that.”
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Have Composure and Confidence:
“There have been times I’ve been blindsided,” Malone said. “The first time that happened, a spark plug wire had come out. After the burnout and before he was pre-staging, I saw Lee’s hand go up. I went over, and he told me what I had to do so that he could make the run. Afterward, I thought to myself, wow, I didn’t flinch. There was no time for questions, and that was definitely a situation where you’re under pressure. Someone is depending on you, and you have to do it right.”
“I’ve been to so many tracks now, but I always have Lee take me on a ride to where the scales and everything are so that I can re-familiarize myself,” Malone said. “It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been to a track, I want to make sure I have a refresher and know exactly where everything is.”
Utilize Prior Experience:
“Maybe being a parent prepared me for the responsibility,” said Malone of managing a plethora of duties at the racetrack. “You have to be responsible for exactly what that person is relying on you for. I also think that working for a law firm for 23 years has helped. I work for three attorneys, so it’s pretty hectic, and you definitely have to multi-task under pressure.”
“She picks up certain sounds,” Zane explained. “She’s gotten an ear for it and knows what the car is supposed to sound like. We had an issue breaking valve springs on the bracket car, and we thought we had it fixed. Marie got to the test session after work, walked up in the staging lanes, listened, and said, ‘this car isn’t fixed.’ She was right. We ended up changing the motor that night, and after the new engine was in, I had her listen to it before we crossed that bridge leaving New Jersey for the race.”