Posts Tagged ‘Parnelli VPJ6 Cosworth’

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(Getty Images)

The sight of an unlimited Top Fuel dragster doing a fast pass is not a sound, sight or sensation ever forgotten. It’s truly one of the most awe inspiring of motor racing experiences.

The shot above is at Dallas International Speedway on October 27, 1969, happy to take advice on the who/chassis/engine?

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(Getty Images)

I was flicking through Getty Images’ drag racing collection and who should be smiling at me (top row in the middle) at Indianapolis on September 3, 1969 but 27 year-old Exekiel ‘Danny’ Ongais.

Danny On-the-Gas caught my eye in the day with his exceptional brio, perhaps he had a dash too much of it?

Ongais became a rather handy, versatile racer on speedways and the circuits, right up to Grand Prix racing after leaving the ‘strips behind. In addition, the Flying Hawaiian starred in sportscars and started at Indy 11 times from 1977 to 1996, his best finish was fourth place aboard an Interscope Racing Parnelli VP6B Cosworth in 1979.

Kahului (Maui) born Ongais started racing BSA’s as a teenager, returning from a three year stint as a paratrooper with the US Army to win the Hawaiian state motorcycle championship in 1960.

With limited racing opportunities in Hawaii, he shifted to the mainland and started working for Dragmaster, a successful builder of drag-car chassis and cars in Carlsbad, California.

Soon he was racing cars owned by others; Jim Nelson (Dragmaster), the Beaver brothers and Mickey Thompson. He then branched out on his own, winning American Hot Rod Association Gas titles in 1963-64, then the National Hot Rod Association AA Dragster championship in 1965.

A switch to Funny Cars yielded two wins in a Mickey Thompson owned, Pat Foster built Mustang powered by an SOHC Ford V8 in 1969. In addition, the Ongais/Thompson duo set 295 national and international records on the Bonneville Salt Flats that year in Mustang Mach 1’s; one 302 and two NASCAR style 427 V8 machines.

After leaving Thompson he raced the ‘Big John’ Mazmanian/Vels Parnelli Mustang Funny Car and ‘Flying Doorstop’ Top Fueller, setting the sport’s first over 240mph pass in the latter at Ontario in 1972 at 243.24mph.

All those years before, his European stint in the Army stimulated his interest in road racing, he attracted the attention of entertainment mogul Ted Field (Interscope) at the end of 1974.

Ongais contested the 1975 US F5000 championship, finishing fifth in the title chase the following year aboard an Interscope Lola T332C Chev behind Brian Redman, Al Unser Snr, Jackie Oliver and Alan Jones, but in front of seasoned road racers and F5000 champions Vern Schuppan, Warwick Brown, Teddy Pilette and Peter Gethin.

Interscope put a toe in the USAC championship that year too, with Ongais taking his first win at Michigan in 1977 aboard a Parnelli VPJ-6B Cosworth. Five more victories followed aboard his Parnelli VPJ-6B in 1978 but mechanical dramas and inconsistency left him eighth in the points standings. If his speed was ever in doubt – it wasn’t – he put his Parnelli VPJ-6C Cosworth in between the Penske PC6 Cosworth DFX’s of Tom Sneva and Rick Mears on the Indy front row.

Ongais contested the two North American GP races aboard a Penske PC4 Ford in 1977 placing seventh from Q22 in the Canadian GP at Mosport, at Watkins Glen he retired from Q26.

In 1978 he raced a Team Tissot Ensign N177 Ford in Argentina and Brazil, retiring in both races from Q21 and Q23. Later in the season he lined up in a Shadow DN9A Ford at Long Beach and Zandvoort but failed to pre-qualify in both events.

Ongais raced plenty of sportscars including Porsche 934, 935 and 962, Lola T600 and March 88S. In addition to many national victories, together with Field and Hurley Haywood, he won the 1979 Daytona 24 Hours racing a Porsche 935.

At Brands Hatch for the Indy Trophy in October 1978. Ninth in the Parnelli VPJ-6B Cosworth, Rick Mears won in a Penske PC6 Cosworth

Ongais raced in CART from 1979. “His debut at Phoenix, where he qualified fourth and led the race before being derailed by an engine failure set the tone for the next couple of years: a story of blazing speed, but bad luck or other circumstances conspiring against him fully capitalizing on it.” Vintage MotorSport wrote.

“But all that took a back seat when he suffered a massive accident in the 1981 Indy 500. He’d pitted as the leader on lap 63, only to lose more than 40s to a catastrophically slow pitstop. Upon rejoining, he made a late pass on a slower car at Turn 3, lost the rear, overcorrected and pounded the barriers nearly head on. He was rushed to hospital in a critical condition, and spent the rest of the season on the sidelines recovering from factures to both legs, a broken arm, and a six-inch tear to his diaphragm.”

“Indeed, while he continued to produce decent results upon his return in 1983, his later years were defined almost as much by a handful of significant accidents – not all of which he was directly involved with.”

“He was very much at the center of the big one in 1985, when he was launched into a massive barrel roll down the backstretch at Michigan after running into the rear of Phil Krueger. Two years later, he crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500 and sustained a concussion that forced him to miss the race.”

“Ongais’ final appearance at the 500 had its roots in far more tragic circumstances in 1996 when polesitter Scott Brayton was killed in a practice crash and team owner John Menard tapped Ongais as his replacement. Ongais, then 54 and making his first start at the Speedway in a decade, lined up at the rear of the field and finished a remarkable seventh. He made one final attempt to qualify with Team Pelfrey two years later, but was bumped.”

The publicity-shy Ongais spent his later years surrounded by family in southern California. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2000 and remains the only driver to score professional wins in drag racing, Indycars and sportscars.

He died, aged 79 on February 26, 2022.

Credits…

Getty Images, Vintage Motorsport, nhra.com, Paul Kooyman, MotorSport Images

Tailpiece…

(unattributed)

Letting rip in the Shadow DN9A Ford on the streets of Long Beach in 1978.

Danny failed to pre-qualify but it was not for want of trying, here he seems keen to win the Patrick Depailler Most-Sideways-Longbeach-Cup!

The race was won by Carlos Reutemann’s Ferrari 312T3. Clay Regazzoni’s Shadow was the only one of three to finish, in 10th place from Q20. Hans Stuck’s car was Q23/DNS and Ongais Q29.

Finito…