- May 21, 1942
- United States
- Not Active
Danny Ongais is an American former racing driver, born on Hawaii, the only native Hawaiian to compete in major racing competitions such were Formula 1 or CART Indy Car World Series. One of his nicknames is 'Flying Hawaiian'.
He recorded six participation (four starts) in the Formula One World Championship in 1977 and 1978. In the American open-wheel competitions, he was active from 1976 to 1998, racing in the USAC Championship, CART World Series and Indy Racing League, scoring six wins. He participated 13 times at Indianapolis 500, finishing best in the fourth place in 1979.
Ongais also raced with motorcycles, sports car and drag cars, achieving the most success in drag racing, winning three major championship titles between 1963 and 1965. In the sports car racing, the highlight of his career was a victory at Daytona 24 Hours in 1979.
Starting a career in motorcycle racing
Born in May 1942 in Kahului, Hawaii, Danny started to race with motorcycles as a teenager. He joined the US Army in the late 1950s and moved to Europe with his paratrooper unit.
He didn't stay long in Europe, returning to Hawaii and continuing his racing career. He was Hawaiian motorcycle champion in 1960 and among the front-runners in the following few years.
Three championship titles in drag racing
Danny's next challenge was a drag racing. In 1963, he was a champion in American Hot Rod Association's (AHRA) AA Gas Dragster Championship. Then, in 1964, he won National Hot Rod Association's (NHRA) AA Dragster Championship. He repeated the same in 1965.
For his achievements in drag racing, Ongais was inducted to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in drag racing category. He was also included in the NHRA's lost of Top 50 drivers of the 20th century.
Daytona 24 Hours debut in 1971
In the early 1970s, Danny made a switch to sports car racing, making a debut at Daytona 24 Hours with Ed Matthews' team alongside Matthews himself and Swede Savage. They were driving a Ford Mustang, not finishing the race.
During the 1970s, he made few more appearances in sports car events, such as Daytona Finale of the IMSA Championship in 1975 or 1976, even finishing on a podium with Interscope Racing's Porsche 934.
Golden years with Interscope Racing
Ongais joined Interscope Racing in 1975 in the SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship. In 1976, he finished fifth in Formula 5000 and made a debut in the USAC National Championship at Ontario Motor Speedway.
In 1977, he competed his first full season in the USAC National Championship, scoring his maiden victory in July at Michigan International Speedway. He recorded three more pole positions that season, finishing 12th in the points and the best among rookies.
He was also driving a Porsche 934 for Interscope in the IMSA GTO Championship, scoring two wins and finishing sixth in the points.
Five wins in the 1978 USAC Championship
In 1978, Danny Ongais has won the most races (five) but USAC championship title went to Tom Sneva, who didn't win a single race but collected the most points with ten podiums. On the other side, Danny scored five wins but his other results were not good and he finished just eighth in the points.
In 1978, he also raced with Interscope in the IMSA Championship, driving the #0 Porsche 935 and scoring two podiums in seven races.
Formula One debut with Interscope Racing in 1977
While driving for with Interscope Racing in the major North-American championships, Ongais and the team made an attempt in the Formula One World Championship, fielding Penske PC4-Cosworth in two Grand Prix events.
In the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Ongais retired after an early accident. In the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, he finished seventh, narrowly missing to score a championship point.
Two DNFs and two DNQs in the 1978 F1 season
Danny continued his F1 adventure in 1978, joining Team Tissot Ensign in the first two rounds of the season, in Argentina and Brazil. Driving an Ensign N177-Cosworth, he retired in both races with mechanical issues.
In April, Interscope Racing was running a Shadow DN9-Cosworth in the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach for Danny, but he failed to qualify for the race. He had one more attempt with that car at Zandvoort in August 1978 but failed to qualify for the Dutch Grand Prix. With that attempt, Danny's F1 career came to an end.
Fourth place at 1979 Indianapolis 500
In 1979, staying with Interscope Racing, Ongais competed in the inaugural season of the CART Championship. Driving the #25 Parnelli-Cosworth, he recorded season's best result at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing fourth at Indianapolis 500.
Later in the season, he was also fourth at Watkins Glen and ended a season sixth in the points. It remained his career-best result in the CART Championship.
Victory at Daytona 24 Hours in 1979
In 1979, Ongais was combining open-wheel and sports car commitments, recording his best result in a career at Daytona 24 Hours. He won a race together with Hurley Haywood and Ted Field in the #0 Porsche 935 of Interscope Racing.
Ongais was on Daytona's podium again in 1980. This time, he finished third together with Ted Field and Milt Minter in the #0 Porsche 935 K3. In March 1980, Ongais scored one more major podium, finishing second at Sebring 12 Hours, together with Ted Field. He also raced at Le Mans 24 Hours with Kremer Racing, not finishing the race.
Horrific crash at 1981 Indianapolis 500
In the 1980 CART World Series, Ongais scored just one podium to finish 15th in the points. He was seventh at Indianapolis 500. In 1981, his open-wheel racing season was interrupted by a horrific crash at Indianapolis 500. Badly injured, he was out of CART championship for two seasons, returning only to Indiapolis 500 in 1982 and participating in sports car races.
In 1982, he won three races with Interscope Racing's Lola T600-Chevrolet in the IMSA GT Championship. He also returned to Le Mans but recorded one more DNF with Kremer Racing's Porsche CK5.
Racing in the CART Indy Car World Series until 1987
Ongais returned to the CART Indy Car World Series in 1983, driving for Interscope Racing at Indianapolis 500 (21st) and then joining Patrick Racing for the next seven races. In 1984, he rejoined Interscope Racing for his last full season, finishing best in the third place at Michigan and tenth in the championship.
In the following years, Ongais was returning to Indy Car occasionally, recording six starts with Interscope in 1985, one start at 1986 Indianapolis 500 with March Engineering and two starts with Interscope in 1987. At 1987 Indianapolis 500, he was supposed to race with Penske Racing but crashed during practice and missed the race.
Fourth at 1987 Sebring 12h, one more Le Mans attempt in 1988
Parallel to his open-wheel racing commitments, Ongais participated occasionally in sports car races with different teams. In 1986, he joined Joest Racing in selected Interserie races and then at Sebring 12 Hours in 1987, finishing in the fourth place together with Sarel van der Merwe and John Winter in the #0 Porsche 962.
In June 1988, Ongais returned for the last time at Circuit de la Sarthe, recording his third DNF at Le Mans 24h race. This time, he was driving the #85 March 88S-Nissan for the Japanese team Italya Sport Team Le Mans. He was sharing a car with Toshio Suzuki and Michel Trolle.
The oldest starter at 1996 Indianapolis 500
Ongais was out of racing for years before his return to Indianapolis 500 in May 1996. He was driving in practice for Brickell Racing but then he received an invitation from Team Menard to joined the team in the #32 Lola. Unfortunately, the reason was Scott Brayton's death during practice.
Previously, Brayton secured the pole position. His teammate Tony Stewart was moved to P1 on the grid while Ongais started from the back of the field. It didn't prevent him to show a good performance and finished the race in the seventh place. At the age of 54, he was the oldest starter in the race.
Career's last race at the age 60
In January 200, Ongais returned to the race track in the third round of the Indy Racing League season, at the Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida. He was driving the #17 Dallara-Oldsmobile for Chitwood Motorsport, finishing in the 13th place.
It was his last Indy Car race in a career. In May 1998, he had one more attempt at Indianapolis 500 but failed to qualify Team Pelfrey's car after he crashed badly during practice.
Danny's last race in a career was in November 2002, at the age of 60, at Grand-Am Rolex Series Finale at Daytona. He raced in a Norma M2000 prototype.
Photos: LAT Photo, Getty Images, hawaiisportshalloffame.com,