Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The "Flyin'-Hawaiian" Danny Ongais Born - May 21, 1942

May 21, 1942 
Danny Ongais
Born in Kahului, Maui Island, Hawai.
When he was aged 14, he tested out motorbike racing with some success. In the late 1950s, Ongais enlisted in the United States Army as a paratrooper stationed in Europe. He was later discharged and returned to Hawaii for motor racing. Ongais became the Hawaiian motorcycle champion in 1960 and was in the top three positions in the expert class from 1960 to 1962.

In 1963 and 1964 Ongais won the American Hot Rod Association AA Gas Dragster Championship, and in 1965 he added the National Hot Rod Association AA Dragster championship title. A flamboyant figure on the racing circuit, Danny's nickname was "On-Gas" for his 'balls to the wall' driving style. He was also known as the "Flyin'-Hawaiian".

He was a Formula One driver who participated in six Grands Prix, debuting on October 2, 1977, and recorded a best result of seventh.

Ongais made his CART debut during the 1979 season. At the Indianapolis 500 Ongais qualified 27th and finished 4th. In a two-year-old car, Ongais scored another 4th place finish at the Kent Oil 150, at Watkins Glen International, and finished in 6th place in points.

For the 1980 season, at his first race the Indianapolis 500, Ongais started 16th and finished 7th. Ongais endured a tough season highlighted by a 3rd place finish at Watkins Glen and ended the season 15th in points.

In 1981 at the Indianapolis 500, Danny Ongais was involved in a very serious accident on lap 63. Ongais came into the pits, as the leader of the race, but problems during the stop caused it to drag on for a disastrous 46 seconds. After finally leaving the pits, Ongais approached a slower car at the end of the backstretch. He made a late pass going into turn 3. Carrying too much speed out of the turn, the car drifted out into the grey and the back end began to slide. Ongais tried to correct the slide by turning right, and the car hooked to the right and crashed nearly head-on into the wall. He was knocked unconscious by the heavy impact. Officials had to cut open the car to help Ongais out. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital in a critical condition. By the time the broadcasting of the race ended at 11:30 PM, Ongais' condition improved heavily and his condition was updated to stable. He suffered a concussion and 2 leg compound fractures. He missed the rest of the CART year to recover in rehabilitation.

Ongais next drove in CART during the 1983 CART/PPG World Series season, first driving at the 1983 Indianapolis 500, where he started in 21st place and retired with mechanical problems. Later in the season Ongais scored a best finish of 5th place at the Escort Warning Radars 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He finished in 20th place in points.

For the 1984 season Ongais took over as owner of Interscope Racing, fielding the #25 Interscope Racing March 84C-Cosworth DFX. Ongais finished 3rd in the Detroit News Grand Prix, at Michigan International Speedway. He finished 10th in points. In 1985, Ongais scored a season best of 6th in the Beatrice Indy Challenge, at Tamiami Park and finished 24th in points. For 1986, Ongais only ran the Indianapolis 500, dropping out with a mechanical failure.

For the 1987 season, Interscope Racing teamed up with Team Penske, with Ongais in the #25 Panavision Penske PC-16-Ilmor-Chevrolet Indy V8, for the Indianapolis 500 however, Ongais crashed in practice and suffered a concussion. The car was driven by Al Unser Sr, who went on to win a record-tying 4th Indianapolis 500. Ongais later attempted to race at the Marlboro 500, at Michigan International Speedway, the Nissan Indy Challenge at Tamiami Park and the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix at Nazareth Speedway. He would retire at Michigan and Miami and fail to qualify at Nazareth.

In 1996 at the age of 54, Ongais agreed to be the substitute driver for Scott Brayton in the Indy 500 who had died in a practice crash shortly before the race. Starting last, Danny finished 7th in what was his final 500.

He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000, in the drag racing category. On the National Hot Rod Association Top 50 Drivers, 1951-2000, he was ranked 39th.


  1. You totally overlooked his record setting runs at Bonneville with Mickey Thompson and his Formula 5000 career. The guy raced everything and was very quick.

  2. Not only that, the dealings I had with him he was an absolute gentleman

    1. Nothing is more important than that. Anyone can be a lout.It takes breeding and , sometimes, heard work to remain a gentleman.

  3. Also omitted is his outstanding career in sports car racing with the IMSA Camel GT series. He was the most fearless driver I have ever seen. With a wonderfully dry sense of humor he was a delight to watch around the paddock, putting on reporters and fans you asked stupid questions.

  4. Yer 1 of my all-time HEROS! Thanx and HAPPY B-DAY!

  5. Danny is good people unpretentious and down to earth.

  6. Ya just had to see Danny at Mid-Ohio in the Interscope Porsche 935, I will always remember that driver that car that combo...

  7. Let's not forget the stellar performances driving Mickey Thompson's Mustang AA/FC.

  8. Two things: Ongais actually tried to enter the 500 back in 1971, but was rejected for lack of closed-course racing experience. His first year at Indy actually was 1977. A year later, he was the only driver who could keep eventual winner Al Under in sight until he DNFed with mechanical failure. But what we who covered IndyCar racing at the time always found challenging, was Danny's reluctance to answer questions with more than a few words. One reporter asked him (I believe at Pocono, late 70s) why he wouldn't answer their questions. To which Ongais reportedly replied, "I have ansers….you guys just haven't asked the righit questions." It later evolved (allegedly), that his contract with Ted Fields included what amounted to a "non-disclose" clause as to the operation of Interscope Racing.