The racing world just lost someone who had a career that spanned three whole decades. Former Indy car and drag racing star Danny Ongais died last weekend due to congestive heart complications. He was 79 years old.
You may also know Ongais as the “Flyin’ Hawaiian” or “Danny On-The-Gas” because he happened to be the only native of Hawaii to start in the Indianapolis 500. He made 11 total starts at this racing competition from 1977 to 1996. His long career included time in Indy cars, sports cars, drag racing, and Formula 1.
According to RACER, the best race of his career at the Indy 500 was when he finished fourth in 1979. He drove the amazing No. 25 Interscope during his long career. His very last appearance at the 500 was actually rooted in tragedy. In 1996, Scott Brayton was killed in a practice crash. John Menard enlisted Ongais to be his replacement. At the time, Ongais was 54 years old and had been away from the speedway for a decade after retiring in 1988. Regardless, he ended up finishing in seventh. Two years later, he tried to qualify with Team Pelfrey to race the 500 again but was bumped.
During the later part of his life, Ongais led a more private life. He was notoriously very shy when it came to publicity. Ongais was surrounded by his family in southern California in recent years. He most recently also got inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000.
Beginning and End of Danny Ongais’ Racing Career
Ongais also had a life before getting launched into the racing world. He was born in Kahului, Hawaii in 1942. Before he was racing cars, Ongais made a name for himself as a motorcycle racer. It all quickly started to happen after Ongais returned from his time serving in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper. He won the Hawaiian state motorcycle championship in 1960. He had several successes from his two-wheel career but quickly decided to add more to his resume.
From 1963 to 1964, he got more into drag racing. The next year he ended up winning the NHRA AA Dragster championship.
Ongais would eventually team up with team owner Mickey Thompson later in the decade. He had two wins in a Ford Mustang in 1969 while on the team. On the speed record circuit, Thompson and Ongais were unstoppable. Using a Mach 1 Mustang, they set about 300 national and international records.
His best racing year was perhaps in 1978. He won five races and eight poles and finished in eight-place for the final USAC standings.
Sadly, Ongais was no stranger to terrifying accidents. At the 1981 Indianapolis 500, he was in a near-fatal wreck and cheated death. This resulted in several arm and leg fractures, as well as some internal injuries. Then, only four years later, the Michigan 500 was also particularly chaotic. He ended up spinning and barrel-rolled during the race.