by Greg Sharp
Danny Ongais is simply a racer's racer. "The Flyin' Hawaiian" has earned the reputation as someone who can drive nearly any type of race car as hard as it can possibly be driven. In 1957, at the tender age of 14, Danny Ongais was already racing motorcycles in the dirt of his native Kahului, Maui, Hawaii. By 17, the expert-rated bike racer was winning in sports cars as well. At the local drag strip some friends let him drive their roadster, and his first run was as if he'd been driving for years. A year later he won the Island Championships and Outstanding driver of the Year award. In 1962, Danny came to the mainland with another unknown islander named Roland Leong who flew his dragster over for the NHRA Winternationals. At the Pomona event, onlookers predicted that the Long Distance and Best Appearing awards presented to the newcomers was the best they'd ever do. Moving to California, Danny joined Dragster Co., one of the first commercial manufacturers of dragster chassis. Proprietor and veteran dragster chauffeur Jim Nelson could tell from the beginning that "all he wanted to do was race. We let him drive my car and his first run was as good as any I ever made. He had that natural ability to drive anything he climbed into." One year later Ongais proved the Pomona skeptics wrong by winning the AHRA Winter Championships.
Danny ran the Dragster car virtually by himself. He towed it to races all over the country, built and tuned the engine and drove with only the help of a bystander to drive the push car. In 1964, Mickey Thompson was developing Ford speed equipment and asked Danny to drive one of his dragsters. His second run in the car was the fastest a Ford powered fuel dragster had ever gone. Driving three different dragsters at the '64 NHRA Winternationals, he ultimately defeated Thompson for the Top Gas title. He was also victorious at AHRA, and UDRA events. At the Hot Rod Magazine Championships at Riverside he pushed his crippled dragster the entire quarter-mile by hand to an elapsed time of one minute and 35 seconds to stay alive in the competition he won later. His "Chevy Too" gas dragster was soon ranked No. 1 in the nation.
In late '64 Ongais moved into the nitro ranks for good, driving the Broussard-Davis-Ongais "Mangler" dragster. He won the Grand Opening meet in his adopted hometown of Carlsbad with one of the fastest runs to date, a 7.62 second, 44 mph. blast.
In 1968, Mickey Thompson asked Danny to help drive a team of '69 Mustangs to set National and International endurance records at Bonneville. Ongais' incredible car control on the wet, slippery salt helped set Class C records at a nearly 160mph average for 500 miles. In 1969, he once again joined Thompson driving one of a matched pair of Mustang funny cars. The unlikely combination of OHC Ford power, a chassis built by dragster veterans, and a driver who had never driven a funny car, totally dominated the season like no funny car before. Danny's "blue car" was nearly unbeatable, decisively winning the Bakersfield March Meet, Manufacturer's Meet, NHRA Springnationals, and U.S. Nationals. Joining the Vel's-Parnelli Jones team in the early '70s, he often drove their Top Fuel dragster and Funny Car at the same event.
In 1975, Danny left drag racing to pursue a successful road racing and Indy-car career. He won the 24 Hours of Daytona, led every Indy car race he started in 1978, and qualified for ten consecutive Indy 500s. "On-The Gas," remains the only driver in history to have achieved professional level victories in drag racing, oval track racing, and road racing.