Danny Ongais

Danny Ongais

21/5/1942

This Hawaiian-born driver first found fame as a drag racer with the Vel’s Parnelli team, before trying his hand in SCCA national racing in 1974. He then tackled US F5000 with Interscope Racing’s Lola in 1975 and 1976, and although a win eluded him he was a regular contender. The following season Interscope ran him in USAC racing – where he shone, taking a win at Michigan – and in IMSA, where he won two rounds in a Porsche 935 turbo, and he made his Grand Prix debut at the end-of-year North American rounds in the team’s Penske.

Danny’s struggles in F1 in 1978 – he scraped onto the grid for the first two Grands Prix in the works Ensign, then floundered with the embarrassing Interscope Shadow – were in sharp contrast to his rapidly blossoming career in USAC, where he took five wins in the Parnelli VPJ6.

Although Danny enjoyed further success for Interscope in IMSA sports car events, winning the 1979 Daytona 24 Hours in a Porsche, and taking third place the following year, this was the high point of his Indy Car career, as he was to suffer appalling leg injuries in a crash at Indianapolis in 1981. Happily he recovered to make a return to the track but, although he raced on until 1987, he was never quite the same force again.

It came as a huge surprise when he came out of retirement in 1996 after Scott Brayton was killed in practice for the Indy 500. However, the veteran brought the Menard Lola home in a splendid seventh place, which encouraged him to race in the event the following May.

Unfortunately for Danny, it was not a happy return, for he crashed heavily when the engine on his car blew during his first lap of qualifying, resulting in an overnight stay in hospital.

(c) 'Who is Who' by Steve Small, 2000

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