If you’ve had no contact with auto racing other than knowing that the city of Indianapolis is the home of a big car race (in fact the world’s most famous car race, the INDY 500) and if you don’t know that it is also the home of the world’s most famous drag race (the U.S. Nationals) then stop reading and go away. Suffice to say , at one they have been going in circles since 1911 and at the other they have been going straight since 1961.
With knowledge advanced to this degree, it might wrinkle the brow and cause one to query: Has a racer ever competed at both events, either on the same weekend or in their careers? No and yes.
No, the 500 is held during the Memorial Day Weekend, the U.S. Nationals over the Labor Day Weekend, but yes there are a tiny handful of drivers who have driven both, most noticeably Art Malone, Danny Ongais, and John Andretti.
There have been other race drivers that turn left on purpose who have taken up drag racing and the most illustrious of them are listed here. However, for big-time drag racers who tried the Indy 500, Malone, Ongais, and Andretti are as good as it gets.
Malone, the 1963 AHRA Top Fuel World champion and that year’s Bakersfield March winner, competed at the U.S. Nationals in the middle 1960s, but, surprisingly, with only modest success. He also raced the Indy 500 three times, 1963 through 1965, with a best finish of 11th in 1964. Malone was quite an all-around talent. He drove Top Fuel and Funny Car in 1966, and also held the one-lap closed-course record of 181 mph set in Bob Osiecki’s blown roadster at Daytona in 1961.
Danny Ongais is a kind of reverse Art Malone in regards to Indy. He did great in drag racing, but not so hot at the Brickyard. Ongais was runner-up in Top Fuel at the 1966 U.S. Nationals aboard the Honda of Wilmington dragster, losing to the late Mike Snively in Roland Leong’s “Hawaiian.”
In 1969, Ongais, a Funny Car rookie, drove Mickey Thompson’s Mach I Mustang to the U.S. Nationals championship, beating Rich Siroonian in “Big John” Mazmanian’s Barracuda in the final. The 1969 season was a good one for Ongais as he won the NHRA Springnationals Funny Car title, the Bakersfield title, and ran a disputed 6.96 at Kansas City Int’l Raceway on September 14 for what some argue was the class’ first six-second run.
At the 500, Ongais did well but didn’t win the big one. His best finish at the speedway was a fourth at the 1979 race. Ongais, however, was a certified hitter on the Indy Car circuit winning six races including the Michigan 500.
Veteran Indy 500 racer John Andretti of the Pennsylvania-based racing Andretti Family also raced at the U.S. Nationals, but he did not qualify. Andretti did license in Jack Clark’s Taco Bell-sponsored Top Fueler and qualified at the1993 Fram Nationals at Atlanta Dragway where he lasted two rounds before losing to Mike Dunn and the La Victoria Salsa dragster, carding a best time of 4.97/295.85. Andretti is the only one in this elite group that has ran at the Brickyard 400 in a NASCAR ride as well as the Indy 500 and the U.S. Nationals
Mickey Thompson was a car owner at the Indy 500 and had drivers Ray Crawford and Dave McDonald at the wheel of a pair of 1960s cars. McDonald, from Riverside, Calif., drove the M/T/Sears All-State car and came to the 500 after a few unsuccessful years in drag racing. Tragically, he and Eddie Sachs were killed at the 1964 Indy 500 in one of the worst crashes ever at the fabled track.
Four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt never raced at the U.S. Nationals, but did race at the old Gulfport dragstrip near Houston, Texas with a gas dragster in the late 1950s.
Others U.S. Nationals competitors who achieved fame outside of drag racing were Doug Kalitta (1994 USAC Sprint Car Champion), Paula Murphy (Bonneville, Sports Car Club of America), and K.C. Spurlock (USAC Sprints, SCCA Super Vee, and ARCA Supercar Super Stock Series).
—C.M. & J.B.
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