23 November 2012

Indianapolis 500, May 24, 1981

“This is the sort of accident Jim, quite frankly, that every racing driver fears when he comes to the old Brickyard, as they call it, because there is no forgiveness in that wall.”
- Jim McKay, ABC commentator

Danny Ongais came into the pits on lap 63 as the leader of the race, but problems during the stop caused it to drag on for a disastrous 46 seconds. After finally leaving the pits, Ongais approached a slower car at the end of the backstretch. Perhaps still upset about the long stop, he made a late pass going into turn 3.

Carrying too much speed out of the turn, the car drifted out into the grey and the back end began to slide. Ongais tried to correct the slide by turning right, and the car hooked to the right and crashed nearly head-on into the wall, at co-commentator Jackie Stewart’s estimate, at over 200 mph.

The front end of the car was ripped away, leaving an unconscious Ongais completely exposed in the cockpit as the car continued around turn 3, trailing a long tongue of orange fire from burning oil. Safety crews quickly surrounded the car and used the Jaws of Life to rescue Ongais, who suffered a concussion and badly broken feet and legs. Remarkably, Ongais made a full recovery and raced again at Indianapolis just one year later.

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