IRL: CHAMPCAR/CART: Ongais inducted into Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame

Nearly four decades after Danny Ongais left his home state of Hawaii to further a rapidly flourishing drag racing career on the mainland US, his old friends and admirers could finally pay him homage as the 50th State's biggest contribution to ...

Nearly four decades after Danny Ongais left his home state of Hawaii to further a rapidly flourishing drag racing career on the mainland US, his old friends and admirers could finally pay him homage as the 50th State's biggest contribution to professional motorsports.

In ceremonies held at the Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii - Manoa campus in Honolulu February 13, Ongais - known to fans worldwide as the "Flying Hawaiian" and "Danny On-the-Gas" - became the first auto racing personality inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in the organization's four year history. Ongais had previously committed to attending an auto launch in Essen, Germany this week and could not attend the festivities, but he sent over one of his trademark Arai helmets and a driving uniform (from his stint substituting for the injured Johnny Rutherford at Patrick Racing during the 1983 CART season) for the Hall of Fame to display.

Born on Maui in 1942 and raised in Honolulu, Ongais began racing motorcycles in 1957 and won a state championship three years later. He later switched into sportscars and primarily dragsters, earning recognition as the "Top Competition Driver" in Hawaii in 1961 before moving to California. He won three national drag racing titles and two Driver of the Year awards in the 1960's, becoming the first driver ever licensed by NHRA in 1964, before making another sudden turn, switching to four-wheeled competition and running his own Formula 5000 car in 1974. With the support of car owner Ted Field, Ongais and the black #25 Interscope Racing car electrified USAC Indycar racing by winning a race in his 1977 rookie season and five more in 1978, leading all drivers in pole positions earned and most laps led.

In 1978, he qualified second and led 71 laps at the Indy 500 before his engine failed. The following year, he placed a career-best fourth at Indy. During this period, Ongais also dabbled in both Formula 1 and sportscar competitions, capturing the 1979 24 Hours of Daytona alongside Field and Hurley Haywood. He became the only driver in history to achieve professional level victories in drag racing, oval track racing, and road racing.

His career nearly ended in a violent crash during the 1981 Indy 500, where he suffered serious leg and internal injuries. But Ongais returned and competed for four more years, finishing 10th in CART season points in 1984 with a best finish of 3rd in the Detroit News 200 at Michigan that same year. After a decade's layoff, he returned to the Brickyard in 1996 as an IRL driver, substituting for fatally-injured pole-sitter Scott Brayton in John Menard's car. Starting the race from the stipulated last position, Ongais finished seventh.

This award comes upon the heels of Ongais being inducted last June into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, MI for his drag racing accomplishments. He also served as Grand Marshal this past October at the NHRA-affiliated California Drag Racing Reunion at Bakersfield's Famoso Raceway, one of the quarter miles where he made his name in the early 1960's.

Other Class of 2000 inductees include World Series winners Mike Lum, Lenn Sakata and Sid Fernandez; Super Bowl-winning Russ Francis; Olympians Chris Duplanty (water polo), Maiola and Manuela Kalili (swimming) and Harold Sakata (weightlifting); inaugural Honolulu Marathon winner Duncan MacDonald; Hawaii International Billfish Tournament founder Peter Fithian; and sumo wrestling champion Salevaa Atisanoe (aka Konishiki). Each inductee received a commemorative medallion and plaque, along with certificates of proclamations from US Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Governor Ben Cayetano, and the Hawaii State Senate and House of Representatives.

Founded in 1998, the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame is a nonprofit, educational partnership with the State of Hawaii, the purpose of which "is to record for all time, the outstanding accomplishments of Hawaii's world class athletes." The organization presently maintains an exhibit at Honolulu's Bishop Museum and a satellite display at Honolulu International Airport's inter-island ternimal.

A Selectors Committee, consisting of nine local media representatives, meets every December and chooses the next year's inductees on the basis of an 80 percent approval rating. Nominees must fit a series of stringent criteria for nomination, including significant accomplishments at the national or international level and a strong residency connection to Hawaii. For Ongais, who has lived in Southern California for the past three decades, to retain this strong connection speaks volumes about how racing enthusiasts here still fondly regard him as one of their own.

For more information on the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame: contact Larry Price at (808) 550-9200, PriceL001@hawaii.rr.com

For more information on the Danny Ongais induction, contact Earl Ma at (808) 523-9636, unions@lava.net

By Earl Ma

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Series Other bike , IMSA Others , IndyCar , General , NHRA , SCCA , USAC
Drivers Hurley Haywood , Danny Ongais