Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Flyin’ Hawaiian Danny Ongais Dies Age 79

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Image: IndyCar

Danny Ongais, an icon of the Indianapolis 500 and the only Hawaiian driver to contest the iconic race, has died in his home in Anaheim Hills, California on Feb. 26 as a result of congestive heart complications. He was 79 years old.

Ongais was born on May 21, 1942 in Kahului, Hawaii. By age 14, he was racing motorbikes and, after a stint in the U. S. Army that saw him stationed in Europe, he returned to Hawaii to become the state’s 1960 motorcycle champion. While he was abroad, he experienced sportscar racing for the first time. And there, he was hooked.

From there, Ongais moved onto car racing for an incredible career that saw him compete in everything from NHRA drag racing to open-wheel racing in series as massive as Formula One in a career that spanned five decades.

Of his 11 Indy 500 starts, Ongais’ best start was seventh place while his best finish was fourth. In his six Formula One races, Ongais only finished a single event, which he did in seventh position — at that time, not a points-scoring position. In USAC-sanctioned open-wheel racing, he won six races for a best championship finishing position of eighth. In IndyCar, his best championship finish was sixth.

It’s his career that’s most well-known, as Ongais was a notoriously private man. Ongais didn’t speak to the press. He didn’t make many friends in the racing world. No one knew where he lived or if he was married or what he did outside the track. Jim Chapman of Interscope Racing said, “Nobody really knew much about him” and said that it was only well into their working relationship that he learned Ongais was married and had a son. Roger Penske once said of Ongais that “his whole heart is racing, that’s his life.”

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