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Hawaiian Racing Legend Danny Ongais Dies at 79

The racing world has lost Danny Ongais, the only native Hawaiian to compete in the legendary Indianapolis 500.
Danny Ongais 6 photos
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In his long career, Danny competed in all types of motorsports, including IndyCar, Formula One, drag racing, sports car, motorcycle, and CART. He was also known as “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” and “On-Gas” due to his charismatic and flamboyant style of living.

He was born in Kahului, Hawaii, and at age 14, he tested out bikes for racing competitions. After being discharged from the army, he became the Hawaiian Motorcycle champion in 1960.

Ongais has had a very successful career in drag racing competitions, winning national championships in 1963 and 1964, as well as in 1969. By 1976, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” was already racing in IndyCar, finishing 28th in his first race. He won his first Indy race at the Michigan International Speedway a year later.

Ironically, his best year in the USAC IndyCar championship was his last and the most devastating. Ongais won five races, more than any driver, but a combination of low unlucky finishes and mechanical problems meant he would finish only eight.He was outstanding in sports cars throughout the years, and his best result was a win at the 1979 24 Hours of Daytona.

At the 1981 Indianapolis 500, Ongais was involved in an almost fatal crash, which caused several arms and legs injuries and fractures. Danny went as far as racing in Formula One in six Grand Prix. He ran for Penske and Shadow, his best result being seventh at the 1977 Canadian Grand Prix, finishing ahead legends as Gilles Villeneuve, James Hunt (defending World Champion), and Emerson Fittipaldi.

Danny became a symbol for Hawaiians. A model, not only for aspiring racing drivers from Hawaii but for everyone. He showed that it doesn’t matter where you are because you can rise to the top with a big heart and ambition.


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