The following article was published in "Stock Car Racing" December 1982.
I had Hoop autograph it for me.
by John Snyder
SMACK IN THE MIDDLE of an unbelievably cluttered garage, hard by the Delaware Canal in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania, sits a race-ready dirt track modified. That in itself is hardly startling, for Upper Black Eddy is but a scant few miles from both the Nazareth (PA) Raceway and the Flemington (NJ) Fair Speedway. What is unique is the fact that this race car has been sitting immobile in the exact same spot for more than ten years.
Today the dust lies heavily on its scarred Chevy coupe body, and no doubt mice have nested in the injector tubes, but in its prime the orange and blue #95 was one of the more potent modifieds sliding through the turns at Nazareth, Flemington, and the now-closed Harmony speedways. This little coupe, the last of a line of like-numbered mud runners, belongs to one Robert "Hoop" Schaible, a legendary character from stock car racing's formative years.
In the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., there is a life-sized statue of Charles A. Lindbergh, America's premier aviator. That statue bears a remarkable resemblance to Hoop, save perhaps for the one missing eyebrow which gives the Upper Black Eddy's most famous racer a distinctive appearance, not unlike Charles Bronson or Johnny Cash. But unlike either of these steely-faced gentleman, Hoop's eyes have always had one of those "what the hell" twinkles, a sure giveaway he's got something off center up his sleeve.
It was, in fact, this penchant for pranks and partying and more pranks and partying from which the Hoop Schaible legend grew. For while Hoop was a good journeyman racer, he wasn't the equal of his more famous contemporaries. Al Tasnady, Jackie McLaughlin and Frankie Schneider were the big winners then; Hoop's role was that of the perennial runner-up. Only twice in his better than fifteen-year modified career did he capture feature events, and but once - in 1964 when he tied Tasnady at Flemington - did he win a track championship. But ask longtime New Jersey modified fans to name the top drivers from the '50s and '60s and the name Hoop Schaible inevitably crops up.
On the track, especially the old, narrow, treacherous Flemington, Hoop was a terror. "He did a lot of blocking, a lot of using the mirror," says Tasnady, who usually managed to get past, though there were times when even he wasn't sure. "He used the mirror on me. He'd chop me. He did everything to me, but I never said a word to him. I figured that was his style of driving. I'd get him one way or another. He'd zig and I'd zag and I'd get him. It might take two or three laps, but I'd get him," recall the greatest dirt track driver of the era.
And of pranks? Well, they were many and so varied that it would be quite impossible to list them all. I have, however, my own favorites, for you see, Hoop was one of my boyhood heroes. Much to my parent's consternation, I thought Hoop Schaible was the neatest guy in the world. For one thing, he didn't work at a regular nine-to-five job. He was a stone mason, one of the best in the area, but he worked on his terms, and never on Saturday. For another, he headed a band of similar characters, known to all as the "Upper Black Eddy Gang."
Hoop and his band would party for days on end, particularly if the weekend racing activities had been successful. And when they weren't partying, they were scheming, thinking up the next outrageous prank. They built the most ludicrous race cars, then tried to pass them off as modifieds. One was a four-door green LaSalle sedan, another a Kaiser complete with a working radio. The fans loved it; the Flemington NASCAR officials were less enthusiastic.
I particularly remember the night when the entire Flemington infield was enveloped in acrid smoke from Hoop's trick-rigged Packard hearse. (He pulled the same stunt once at Daytona during Speedweeks.) Then there was the time the crew forgot the ramps for the tow rig and they just rolled the car off the truck. At Harmony, Hoop chased a wild skunk through the pits, caught it, and held it up by the tail for all to see.
But my favorite Hoop Schaible story - and the one still talked about today whenever folks get together for a bench racing session - was almost his final one.
Following a run of fence encounters, Hoop's race car was broken beyond repair. He had nothing to drive. Nothing, that is, except his 1937 Ford coupe road car, which by chance was painted the same bright orange and blue as the racer. Without doing a single thing, save for rolling down the side windows, Hoop loaded his street machine on the flatbed tow truck and headed for Nazareth. He got by the inspectors, a not too difficult feat at the time, and took the car out on the track. All went well until, coming off the fourth turn, the car failed to behave like a racer and Hoop plowed head-on into a stack of calcium bags right in front of the main grandstand. Glass and parts flew in all directions and a cloud of dust rose majestically from the scene. Hoop sat dazed in what seconds before had been a licensed road car and was now a pile of white-coated junk! Promoter Jerry Fried could take no more. Hoop and his Upper Black Eddy gang were permanently banned from Nazareth.
By the end of the 1960s, modified racing had undergone dramatic changes. Cars had become more sophisticated. The Reading contingent was about to debut the integral chassis/roll cage modified, the prototype of today's racer. Drivers, too, became more serious about their craft. What was once a devil-may-care Saturday night pastime suddenly became serous business. Some were able to make the transition; others were not. They were left behind in the dust. Hoop was one of these. His career as a racer had reached its peak in 1964, the year he and Tasnady were co-champs at Flemington. From then on he seemed less inclined to keep up with the new turns the sport was taking. And then one Saturday night he just left the #95 in the garage. It sits there to this day.
Looking back on it now, in terms of today's modified racing, the era seems quaint and innocent. Perhaps it was, but it was also a time when winning wasn't quite as important as competing and having fun. No one epitomized that spirit any more than Hoop Schaible. Hoop won't we remembered as the world's greatest modified driver. Certainly, however, he ranks as one of the all-time racing characters, downright unforgettable.
Author Snyder wishes us to note the technical detail of Hoop's car which included aerodynamics, a mysterious hole above the windshield, the classy cage, the tuned exhaust, the low profile tires, the helmet and fire suit, but most mostly the professional paint and lettering job.
IS THERE ANOTHER WAY? Schaible makes quick engine repair...right from the driver's seat. Photo from Harmony, N.J. Speedway.
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