DRIVERS: DANNY ONGAIS
Name: Danny Ongais
Nationality: United States of America
Date of birth: May 21, 1942 - Hawaii
Born in Hawaii shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Danny Ongais was a driver of remarkable versatility. After a career in motorcycle racing and a spell in the US Army as a paratrooper Ongais became involved in the high octane world of drag racing in southern California in the mid 1960s.
He started out as a mechanic and then decided to become a driver. After trying some of the best machines around he decided to build his own car. He introduced the car at the Winternationals in 1964 and beat Mickey Thompson for whom he would soon be driving. The pair joined forces to break a series of speed records at Bonneville in Mach 1 Mustangs and in the years that followed Ongais became one of the top names in Top Fuel drag racing, winning a string of NHRA US National titles. In 1965 he became the first man to exceed 200mph on a European track. "The Silent Hawaiian" did not say much but he was quick.
He was 32 when he decided to try his hand at road racing in 1974 driving a Lola T300 for Eddy O'Brien in the SCCA National and Regional road racing championships. He was soon a winner, taking 12 wins in 15 starts. This attracted the attention of businessman Ted Field, the head of the Interscope company, who hired Ongais for his Formula 5000 team in 1975. He was soon a frontrunner and in 1977 Field took him to USAC racing with a Parnelli chassis and he won a race at Michigan in his rookie year. At the same time he was competing in IMSA sportscar events and winning with a Porsche 934.
At the end of 1977 Interscope bought him a seat with the Penske team for two of the North American races. Although he crashed in the United States GP, he finished seventh in Canada. The following year he raced in USAC and in F1, winning five races in the US series and retiring from the lead in the Indianapolis 500. But he struggled badly in F1, having two disappointing outings in South America with an Ensign and then having two more tries in an Interscope Shadow.
At the start of 1979 he shared victory in the Daytona 24 Hours in a Porsche 935 with Field and Hurley Haywood. That year he raced Indycars and in 1980 Field decided to embark on a Porsche-supported Indycar programme with a Roman Slobodjnskj Interscope chassis. But the programme was aborted and Ongais returned the following year in a Cosworth-engined Interscope. He suffered a suspension failure at Indianapolis and had a huge crash which left him fighting for his life. A year later he returned to the Speedway. He continued to race at Indianapolis and Le Mans throughout the 1980s but he was by then in his forties and past his best.
After the 1988 season Ongais disappeared from racing but re-emerged unexpectedly in 1996, driving for John Menard after Scott Brayton was killed in practice for the Indy 500. The 54-year-old Ongais finished seventh but his final hurrah at Indianapolis in 1997 ended in a big crash. He popped up again in GrandAm in 2002, racing a Norma-Ford at the age of 60.