Danny Ongais is an American former racing driver, born in Hawaii.
Ongais is the only native Hawaiian to compete in the Indy 500. And fast he was.
He competed professionally in Indycar/CART, Sports Cars, Formula One and drag racing.
A flamboyant and charismatic figure on the racing circuit, Ongais was soon nicknamed “On-Gas” and “The Flyin’Hawaiian”, for his speed, but also due to his tendency to crash.
In 1977-78, Ongais tried his luck in Formula 1 with the underfunded Ensign team, with a non-works Penske and with Shadow, qualified 4 times in 6 attempts, and finished 7th in Canada in the Interscope entered Penske.
At the 1981 Indianapolis 500, Ongais was involved in a near-fatal crash which caused several arm and leg fractures as well as internal injuries.
In his career he many times came back from injury to race again and like at the 1985 Michigan 500, soon crashed again.
Ongais made his CART debut during the 1979 season driving a Parnelli 6C – Cosworth entered by Interscope Racing and was soon competitive.
For his debut at the Indy 500, Ongais crashed in practice but managed to qualify 27th and fought his way up in the race to finish an excellent 4th, this race sums very well Ongais’ career : lot’s of speed and crashes, lot’s of ups and downs.
Ongais was notoriously reclusive and a private man, rarely giving interviews and revealing little or no details of his life outside of racing.
Roger Penske while employing Ongais for the 1987 Indy 500, was unable to get his driver speak to the press, and said of him : “His whole heart is in racing, that’s his life”.
Jim Chapman, race director at Interscope Racing stated : “Nobody really knew much about him – where he lived, his family, stuff like that”.
A very fast driver, a fearless competitor, and a special character indeed, Danny Ongais.