Flyin’ Hawaiians, Etc., In The Mail

John DeSoto was literally flying. Star-Advertiser/Dean Sensui photo

I love it when I get emails, and I’ve received several lately about some of my recent MidWeek columns.

I got a bunch after I wrote about the nickname “Flyin’ Hawaiian” about Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Boston Red Sox post-season star Shane Victorino, among many others. Most of the emailers wanted me also to mention local motor-sports stars who had that same moniker.

Our readers reminded me about John DeSoto, the former city councilman and football star from Waianae, who used that Flyin’ Hawaiian nickname as a motocross star in the 1960s and ’70s. DeSoto won a number of Hawaiian championships early in his motorcycle career, but he also showed his Hawaiian pride on the Mainland and throughout Europe as one of the most popular racers around.

Then there was Danny Ongais of Kahului, Maui, who not only had that nickname but also drove a car with that name emblazoned on the sides. Ongais, known for his “hard-charging style,” according to one of our readers, made his name as a drag racer and driver in Grand Prix, Formula One and the Indy 500. In one of his greatest triumphs, at age 54 as the oldest Indy driver, he substituted at the last moment for driver Scott Brayton, who was killed on the Friday practice round in 1996. Ongais started last at the Brickyard and ended up finishing seventh overall.

Ongais, who also was known as “On-gas” for his aggressive driving style, also drove cars owned and operated by one of those men who was very proud of displaying the nickname. Roland Leong was a legend around Hawaii’s drag strips, and his car “Flyin’ Hawaiian” made the Top 25 all-time list at the Winter Nationals. Back in 1969, Leong’s Dodge Charger, driven by Art Reyes, made Funny Car history by taking flight and sailing backward through the finish line lights. Drag racing fans remember it as living up to the nickname Flyin’ Hawaiian to da max!

I also received a great email from Kimberlee Bassford, an independent filmmaker who read my MidWeek columns about Liliha’s 15-year-old judo and wrestling superstar Teshya Alo. Bassford says she’s “working on a feature documentary tentatively titled ‘The Animated Adventures of Judo Girl.'”

Bassford says she “hopes to have the film completed by next fall in time for the Hawaii International Film Festival.” She’s currently raising funds to assist in completing the project and is reaching out to people who want to help. You can find out more by contacting Kimberly at

Finally, sometimes a column of mine helps make a connection, or so I found out in a flurry of recent emails. Perhaps you remember my story of 14-year-old Erik Svetin, the young Red Sox fan from Molokai who used his love of baseball to come up with an award-winning science project. Svetin said in the story that he wants to become an engineer some day.

That mention led to University of Hawaii assistant dean of engineering Dr. Song K. Choi getting in touch with the family to see if he could share his passion about the subject with young Erik. Choi told me via email that he “thinks it’s extremely important that students who enjoy sports understand that athletics and academics are identical in the requirement of discipline, practice and intelligence.” That note eventually led the doctor of engineering and the Svetin family to get together in a meeting on Oahu later this month. I’m sure they’ll keep me updated via email.

So, keep those emails coming. You never know when one of them might lead to another column in MidWeek.