INDIANAPOLIS — A few months ago, no one unfortunately really knew all that much about David Malukas. Soon though, you will. That attention is growing by the week for this 20-year old first-generation Lithuanian-American driver who’s in the midst of his rookie campaign in the NTT INDYCAR Series. He enters this weekend’s doubleheader at the Iowa Speedway 18th in points after 10 races run.
Before we get to the Malukas of now, you first have to go back to the Malukas as a young kid. How did we get here?
It started off with his parents in the Soviet Union. They left following the fall of it. They wanted to get out of communist rule so came to America looking for a brighter opportunity. While here, Henry and Daiva Malukas lived the American dream. They did so by their work ethics. Henry eventually became a truck driver, later starting his own trucking business. You may have heard of it or seen their name in the paddock over the years.
H (Henry) M (Malukas) D (Daiva).
This trucking company has grown to an empire. Sound like another guy in the paddock? Maybe you’ve heard of Roger Penske and Penske Truck Leasing.
I’m not saying HMD isn’t going to be the next Penske, but I’m also not saying they won’t either. Their son is a talent that is good enough one day to be driving for Penske, but if things progress the way that they have, there’s no reason to believe the baton isn’t passed once down the road to the Malukas’.
Still, while truck driving, Henry developed a love for racing. He even raced some himself at places like Road America. In the midst of this, David was born. He loved watching his dad race and seeing the passion behind it. So naturally, young David fell in love too. Eventually, David would join Henry as a father-son go kart duo.
“It’s a lot,” Malukas said on his dads influence on him becoming a race car driver too. “When you’re a kid, you kind of just follow what’s been given, right. Especially when I was a six-year-old and said I want to become a racer, that doesn’t just come out of the blue. That was influence from my father. He never did anything on the serious end, but he always loved it when he was a kid. Never really had the opportunity to do anything for him with being in the Soviet Union.
“But when he came to America he obviously got himself a Corvette to go around Road America and do some club races with a couple of friends, and we both together went into go-karting and he was in DD2 and I was in Kid Karts and it was just like a nice father-and-son moment, and throughout the years we ended up just following that path, and after a few years I was obsessed. I was glued to it, and I could never leave the racing world.”
For the younger Malukas, he quickly shined. It became something he knew he wanted to do.
“I think it was when I was 12 or 13 years old when I first went over to Europe and ended up winning the X30 Le Mans World Finals,” Malukas said on when he first knew this was something he’d be good at and could make a living doing. “I remember that experience then. When I knew that, it’s like, this is very serious. Of course we’re also doing it just to have fun, but there’s definitely some moments where it’s like more on the working end, but every step of the way it’s been amazing, and yeah, still early stages — back then it felt like it was many years after and I just chose to take it seriously, but it was still early days. Yeah, it’s been a wild ride.”
Fun has grown to pressure because Henry’s passion never waned. Neither did David’s. But as David kept winning and kept getting better, he kept moving up racing ranks. Henry gave up racing and decided to help fund this budding career. They went USF2000 racing in 2017. Then Indy Pro 2000 in 2018. Then 2019 up to Indy Lights.
This was getting serious now. 2020 was a COVID year but the Malukas’ were back in 2021. He had 7 wins, 16 podiums and 6 pole positions that season.
Might as well jump up to the next step, right?
That’s where we are now. HMD teamed with fellow Illinois based team Dale Coyne Racing and off they went for the 2022 season.
The start to his rookie season wasn’t anything glamorous. He started in Row 9 or further back in each of the 1st 5 races. Only 2 of them saw him finish in the top 20 even.
Part of that was just learning this car, learning his role and also learning the length of these races in general. In the Road to Indy races, they were much shorter in length. Those races were the lengths of a stint in an INDYCAR race. How long has it taken Malukas to get used to that?
Once we got to the Indianapolis 500 though, it was the turning point to all of this. Most rookies are wide eyed and in awe of that place. A race of that magnitude is one that puts a lot of pressure on the most seasoned of drivers.
Malukas didn’t flinch. If he felt any pressure, he hid it well. He qualified 13th for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500. That was a shock to those on the outside, but if you watched Malukas in practice of that week, he was fast.
He set the 7th quickest lap on opening day. He was 3rd on Day 3 (Day 2 was rained out). On Fast Friday, he was 7th again which is why I wrote then that despite all this speed, he was being looked over during the Month of May. You knew it was coming. A crowded rookie class with 2 of the drivers being named Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean, it didn’t matter what Malukas did, he was fighting for 3rd best in show among the group.
It didn’t matter that he was in the top 10 more times than not in practice. It didn’t matter that Malukas was the top rookie driver to cross the yard of bricks on May 29 in finishing 16th.
He never was going to get that award. That fueled his fire. The 20-year old has used that as motivation to instead put his name on the map in a different way. He wants the season long rookie of the year award and by that focus, he’s doing so by shining on Saturday’s. He’s figuring it out one race at a time.
“I think it shows,” Malukas said. “We started off the season with a bang and then from there just made a lot of rookie mistakes. But I’d say since kind of the month of May started, we’ve kind of — I’ve finally been starting to figure out — I’ve figured out what I want from the car and building the chemistry with the team and the team knows what I want and I know what they need, and together we’ve kind of been building this momentum, and from race after race, it seems that we’re getting the hang of it, and yeah, every time it just keeps getting better.”
Malukas has qualified in the top 8 in 3 of the last 4 races in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda which is making teams take notice of the speed that the Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports has shown.
The thing is, the next step in his progression is turning those strong qualifying days and turning them into strong race days on Sunday’s.
While he’s qualified really well, he still also only has 1 top 10 in that 4 race span as that came back on July 3 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. What areas does he feel like he can improve upon to turn those top 10 starts into top 10 finishes?
“There’s just so much to pit stops, and yes, they’re better, but there’s still a lot to gain and find there, and just any sort of strategy-wise,” he said. “In Indy Lights I think it is a very good series to go up the ladder and prepare you for INDYCAR, but the one thing is really doesn’t have is having pit stops, having strategies and different fuel mappings and so much overtake to figure out how to use it all. I think it’s still going to be learning how to do that, and while I’m doing a fuel saving strategy and the guy behind me isn’t, how do I know when to defend and use an overtake to defend going to the next corner, what are they going to make a move. Just little things like that which is obviously just going to take time.”
In saying that, he still also has 3 top 12 finishes in the last 4 races on the year too and improving by the week in a series that’s as difficult to shine in as ever before.
Now though is a doubleheader at Iowa for a pair of races in a year that is meeting his expectations. The pressure is there, but so is the fun too.
“You definitely have the pressure,” he said. “I put even more pressure on myself having an awful start to the season. But no, honestly it’s so bad that I am so obsessed with INDYCAR. I don’t think I could ever drive anything ever again other than INDYCAR. It is just so much fun, with the whole strategy.
“In any other series it’s kind of — if you don’t really qualify at the front you know it’s going to be a tough race to get up there, where with INDYCAR if you qualify last or first and obviously Will Power is a great example for this at Mid-Ohio, literally comes from dead last and puts it on a podium. We still haven’t managed to do that. I still need to learn how he does those magic tricks.
“But it is what makes INDYCAR feel so special and you always have that clinging hope especially at the end. You’re like, still one more pit stop, something crazy can happen, we still have a chance to be up there. That’s kind of the strong connection that I have with the series.”