Hoop Schaible

and the Upper Black Eddy Gang

The following article was published in "Auto Racing Pictorial Magazine" May - June 1977.

Hoop Schaible - Last of the Free Spirits

by John Snyder

He had a ruddy complexion, a scar where one eyebrow should have been, and blonde hair that never seemed to be combed. He walked and stood in a kind of permanent slouch, usually with a cigar in one hand and a wad of chewing gum in his mouth. Kids idolized, imitated him. Parents loathed his appearance and his antics. He was a hero in the mold of Huckleberry Finn--a devil-may-care one of a kind America legend. On top of all that he could drive a race car with a reckless abandon most others never possess.

In the 1950's and early 1960's stock car racing was still an innocent sport. The big money seriousness had yet to make itself felt. Racing was fun--raw entertainment for the fans, and exciting release for the competitors. Even then the Flemington Fairgrounds Speedway was the center of New Jersey stock car action.

Racing began on a regular basis at Flemington in 1955 and Jackie McLaughlin established themselves as the track kingpins with drivers like Vince Conrad, Bill Wark, and Jackie Burgstresser trying each week to unseat these two South Jersey aces. Along with them was another speedster from Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania, the focus of this tale from the past, one Robert "Hoop" Schaible.

Hoop Schaible looked like a race driver from that era was supposed to look. He wore an old flap-eared leather helmet and short-sleeved red shirt when he drove. He hunched over the steering wheel like a man possessed. There was no pretense, no airs. Hoop was always himself. He fit the mold of racing's other legends. Like Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly and their gang, Hoop was forever ready for another beer, another outrageous prank, another race.

He was by trade a stone mason--a damn good one at that. Most of all though he was his own master. Operation out of an unbelievable cluttered garage near the Delaware Canal in Upper Black Eddy, Hoop worked as the spirit moved him. To the kids in the area he represented the ultimate anti-establishment hero in an era when being uptight was the accepted mode of living.

On the track Hoop was a terror. His racers often resembled refugees from a monumental accident, but they ran. Hoop got every ounce of speed from them. He would race anyone at any place on the track. He didn't win a whole lot of features though he was always there when it was time to count out the money.

Flemington--the old narrow treacherous Flemington--was Hoop's track. He could take an underpowered machine and use it and the track to beat out faster machines. He was best at pursuing, dogging the leader of a race from the second spot. Once in front, however, Hoop had the bad habit of overdriving and losing his position.

The fans loved it. One night, after blowing several engines in previous events, Hoop put an ancient flathead motor in his Modified and proceeded to lead a heat race for eight laps before the tired iron expired from sheer exhaustion. Another time he rigged his Packard hearse with a trick manifold and enveloped the entire Flemington infield in dense black smoke. When Hoop wasn't the perpetrator of stunts and practical jokes he was the promoter.

Through the years he gathered around himself a gang of cohorts the likes of which racing may never see again. They were known as the Upper Black Eddy Gang in polite terms and unprintable names when they caused havoc on the race track. What a cast of characters--"Spike" Allen, Barney Swope, and "Ya" Pyatt.

Spike Allen was the clown prince of Flemington. His racers were notoriously slow and always absurd. One was a Kaiser complete with automatic transmission and a radio that played. Another was, of all things, a green La Salle sedan. Still another sported a wind-up key on the trunk lid which Spike ceremoniously wound before the start of each race.

Barney Swope was another story. He didn't purposely try to be a comic, but his ability as a driver was far short of his desire. Inevitably Barney would tangle with Flemington's boards. When he did it all by himself no one other than Barney got upset. Unfortunately he often took a couple of other racers along on his splinter rides, and thus Barney spent most of his time hiding from the other drivers in the infield.

Then there was Ya Pyatt. Ya had a '49 Ford Modified--actually a strictly stock junker--which was undoubtedly the slowest racer ever recorded on Flemington's clay. Ya's whole career can be summed up with one revealing tale. One night the boys forgot the ramps to get Ya's car off the giant flatbed truck they used to haul it to the track. So they just rolled it off, upside down! They turned it over, Ya got in, fired up the engine, and drove out through the pit gate. Such was the racing career of Ya Pyatt.

As leader of the Upper Black Eddy Gang, Hoop wasn't above the zany stunts his companions were always pulling. In fact, Hoop's greatest stunt got him banned from Nazareth and almost killed.

To preface the tale, Hoop had hit a streak of bad racing luck and had demolished his trusty #95 coupe beyond repair. He was without a car to race, except, that is, his road car. Yes, Hoop's regular duty road car was a '37 Ford coupe painted orange and blue just like his racer. Complete with a number Hoop brought his coupe to Nazareth.

It still had its window glass and seats and all the rest. Today it would be impossible to do, but in the old days, especially at Nazareth, inspections were often cursory. Hoop brought his coupe out on the track and tried to make it behave like a racer. Only it wouldn't and Hoop spectacularly smashed it into a pile of calcium sacks and sundry other obstacles that were stacked in the infield.

That was the end. Jerry Fried was livid. Hoop and his antics were banned from Nazareth. The ultimate stunt had backfired.

Hoop Schaible's career as a race driver reached its zenith in 1964 when he and Al Tasnady were co-champions of Flemington's Modified division. After that Hoop's luck and desire seemed to run out. He made few concessions to the changing character of the sport, and as the big money cars began to dominate the scene, Hoop was left in the dust. His time passed. He ran a couple more seasons, appearing less and less often, and then Hoop Schaible simply hung up his helmet. An era had drawn to a close.

There aren't any Hoop Schaible's around today. Walk through the pits and listen to the conversations. There are few smiles and little laughter. Drivers, owners, and crews go about their business with a seriousness of purpose unseen a few short years ago. The free spirits of the world, those cast from the same mold as Hoop Schaible, aren't around racing any longer. They belonged to another time, an era when Modified racing was seeking an identity.

Looking back on it now it seems a quaint and innocent age. But was it? Was there a spirit extant then that, kindled by Hoop Schaible and others, has now been lost?

Hoop Schaible the free spirit.

IN THE FIFTIES - Hoop Schaible, a hero in the mold of Huckleberry Finn. [Plum Photo]

Hoop Schaible making adjustments to the Orange 95.

IS THERE ANOTHER WAY? Schaible makes quick engine repair...right from the driver's seat. Photo from Harmony, N.J. Speedway.

Magazine Article: The Most Incredible Character I Ever Met