Local rides into Corvette Hall of Fame

Ahwahnee's Doug Hooper will be inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame on Aug. 31, 2007

By Jerry Fieldsted - Special to the Sierra Star
(Updated Thursday, January 18, 2007, 11:47 AM)

Doug Hooper is a recent addition to the town of Oakhurst, having moved here from Highland Park in 2002. However, Hooper's life before joining the community was filled with the kind of excitement most of us can only dream about.

He was a professional race-car driver, one of the pioneers of the sport.

He rubbed shoulders with celebrities in his North Hollywood Corvette repair shop. And now, Hooper is being recognized for his achievements. The Corvette Hall of Fame has accepted him into their gloried halls for his work on and off the racing track.

Despite all of this, Hooper is a very modest guy. Ahwahnee's Bill Mahle, one of his long-time friends who worked on his nomination, says that Hooper doesn't gloat about his racing achievements.

Mahle first met Hooper in 1975, when Hooper was working as a police officer in Los Angeles and Mahle was assigned to work with him. Hooper attended L.A.P.D.'s police academy in 1971 and became an officer, all the while operating his repair shop and winning races.

He won the Officer of the Year award in 1984 for his services to North Hollywood. He stayed on the force for sixteen years in LA and another fourteen in San Fernando.

It wasn't until Mahle and Hooper spent years on the force together, however, that Mahle learned about the storied racing career Hooper led before joining the L.A.P.D., and that he was running a Corvette repair shop in North Hollywood.

"I purchased a 1957 fuel injected Corvette, in very bad shape I might add, and discovered that Doug was the foremost authority on early Corvette Rochester fuel injection," Mahle wrote in his nomination.

"He offered to rebuild my injection unit, which he did, making it as good as new. I also learned that Doug serviced early Corvette fuel injection units for people from all over the world."

Not only that, but Hooper serviced several Corvettes from the elite celebrities of Hollywood.

"I worked on Paul Newman's Corvette, Charlton Heston's, James Garner's, Steve McQueen's, Peter Fonda's, the Mamas and the Papas', they were at the shop all of the time," Hooper says. "It was a level playing field - status didn't really matter."

He has even been recognized as the national authority on early Corvette fuel injection.

What Hooper is best known for, though, is his career as a professional racer. He began at the age of 25 with a self-bought 1957 fuel-injected Corvette (also known as a Fuely, Hooper comments) and went through SCCA driving school with racing legend Bob Bonderont.

After his training, Hooper hit the track and quickly became noticed thanks to his consistent winning record. Mickey Thompson, the middleman between Chevrolet and the racers driving their cars, was able to get Hooper to join his racing team.

"We were factory drivers under the table," Hooper says of the experience.

"Chevy didn't get too involved with the racing until very recently. So Mickey was our guy who wrote the checks and got us the cars. The only time Chevy got involved was when we won in their cars."

Hooper was recruited to drive a brand new factory race car - the very first ZO6. Corvette inventor Zora Duntov had specifically shipped Thompson the car from General Motors for the Times Grand Prix, a three-hour endurance race that would become Hooper's most prolific.

The date was Oct. 13, 1962. The track was Riverside International. The stage was set for a memorable race, and Hooper helped make it one of the most remembered in Corvette history. In a field of more than 50 cars, including the brand new Shelby Cobra, (which would become Corvette's rival), Hooper beat out everybody else, and the Cobra broke down during the race. This race inspired a musical group called the "Ripchords" to try to rewrite the history of the race with their song "Hey Little Cobra," which riles Hooper's friend and fellow nominator Curt Campbell.

"The song writer changed the results of the race to have the Cobra win, which is a lie," Campbell points out.

He was a professional race-car driver, one of the pioneers of the sport.

He rubbed shoulders with celebrities in his North Hollywood Corvette repair shop. And now, Hooper is being recognized for his achievements. The Corvette Hall of Fame has accepted him into their gloried halls for his work on and off the racing track.

Despite all of this, Hooper is a very modest guy. Ahwahnee's Bill Mahle, one of his long-time friends who worked on his nomination, says that Hooper doesn't gloat about his racing achievements.

Mahle first met Hooper in 1975, when Hooper was working as a police officer in Los Angeles and Mahle was assigned to work with him. Hooper attended L.A.P.D.'s police academy in 1971 and became an officer, all the while operating his repair shop and winning races.

He won the Officer of the Year award in 1984 for his services to North Hollywood. He stayed on the force for sixteen years in LA and another fourteen in San Fernando.

It wasn't until Mahle and Hooper spent years on the force together, however, that Mahle learned about the storied racing career Hooper led before joining the L.A.P.D., and that he was running a Corvette repair shop in North Hollywood.

"I purchased a 1957 fuel injected Corvette, in very bad shape I might add, and discovered that Doug was the foremost authority on early Corvette Rochester fuel injection," Mahle wrote in his nomination.

"He offered to rebuild my injection unit, which he did, making it as good as new. I also learned that Doug serviced early Corvette fuel injection units for people from all over the world."

Not only that, but Hooper serviced several Corvettes from the elite celebrities of Hollywood.

"I worked on Paul Newman's Corvette, Charlton Heston's, James Garner's, Steve McQueen's, Peter Fonda's, the Mamas and the Papas', they were at the shop all of the time," Hooper says. "It was a level playing field - status didn't really matter."

He has even been recognized as the national authority on early Corvette fuel injection.

What Hooper is best known for, though, is his career as a professional racer. He began at the age of 25 with a self-bought 1957 fuel-injected Corvette (also known as a Fuely, Hooper comments) and went through SCCA driving school with racing legend Bob Bonderont.

After his training, Hooper hit the track and quickly became noticed thanks to his consistent winning record. Mickey Thompson, the middleman between Chevrolet and the racers driving their cars, was able to get Hooper to join his racing team.

"We were factory drivers under the table," Hooper says of the experience. "Chevy didn't get too involved with the racing until very recently. So Mickey was our guy who wrote the checks and got us the cars. The only time Chevy got involved was when we won in their cars."

Hooper was recruited to drive a brand new factory race car - the very first ZO6. Corvette inventor Zora Duntov had specifically shipped Thompson the car from General Motors for the Times Grand Prix, a three-hour endurance race that would become Hooper's most prolific.

The date was Oct. 13, 1962. The track was Riverside International. The stage was set for a memorable race, and Hooper helped make it one of the most remembered in Corvette history. In a field of more than 50 cars, including the brand new Shelby Cobra, (which would become Corvette's rival), Hooper beat out everybody else, and the Cobra broke down during the race. This race inspired a musical group called the "Ripchords" to try to rewrite the history of the race with their song "Hey Little Cobra," which riles Hooper's friend and fellow nominator Curt Campbell.

"The song writer changed the results of the race to have the Cobra win, which is a lie," Campbell points out.

Career

Hooper's racing career with Thompson continued until General Motors pulled the plug on its racing sponsorship in 1963, which landed Hooper into sudden unemployment. The tragedy that day was that Hooper was about to race the very first Corvette Grand Sport at Le Mans in a few months. Duntov had even personally picked Hooper to test out the Grand Sport, along with fellow racers Dr. Dick Thompson and Masten Gregory, before GM stopped its sponsoring. "Zora and I were pretty close," Hooper says of Duntov. "Whenever I needed anything, I just called him up and he got right on it."

No longer employed with Thompson, Hooper decided to continue racing in his own 1957 Vette, and also opened up his own Corvette repair shop. He helped found the California Sports Car Club at this time, and taught young drivers through its driver-training program as an instructor for many years. He also branched out into some different racing fields, entering Formula 5000, Trans Am and Can Am races with his usual success.

Hooper was approached in 1992 by a Mr. Gene Schiavone, who managed to have in his hands the very same Grand Sport Hooper test drove 30 years ago for Duntov. The car was since transformed into a big block roadster, but needed some repairs. Hooper was surprised to find the legendary car at his shop one day, with Schiavone urging him to fix it up and race it. Hooper couldn't pass up this chance to finally race the car he was denied at Le Mans, so he did. In a three-year campaign, Hooper raced the Grand Sport twenty times, with the tracks ranging from Palm Springs to Watkins Glen. He placed in 19 of those races, winning 16 of them and placing second three times, setting a new win record for Grand Sports. The car was then sold in 1995 to Rob Walton of Wal-Mart fame. In 2001, he retired from both the police force and his repair shop, a year later moving up to Oakhurst to quietly spend his retirement days.

Hardware

Hooper's racing career is full of awards, trophies and accomplishments.
"I only kept about a quarter of them," Hooper says. "The rest went to the owners of the cars I drove." He even got to drive Garner's TS-5 in 1970, his last major race until the Grand Sport years.

"It was a formula car that went 200 mph," Hooper remembers.

Hooper has been in numerous book, magazine and Web site articles about Corvettes, his expert knowledge about the cars is absolute and he is humble man who doesn't brag about what he's done. He still gets a gleam of excitement in his eyes as he discusses his many racing exploits.

As Mahle explains in his nomination letter, "To me, and many others, Doug is Mister Corvette, and always will be. He has always been available for advice and assistance and still is today."

However, the process to get "Mister Corvette" the honors he deserves was not easy.

"I discovered that they (the National Corvette Museum) accepted nominations, and Doug needed to get in, so we started getting letters written," Mahle says. "It took two years to finally get him inducted. It was a lot of work."

Campbell adds that he "has the museum on my speed-dial," with a laugh.
It paid off.

Despite, as Hooper notes, that "only one racer gets inducted each time, and the museum has only been doing this since 1998," the hard work of his two friends and the many others who wrote in to give their recommendation worked.

Hooper will be inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame on Aug. 31, 2007 in Bowling Green, Ky., which is where the factory that makes Corvettes is located. Hooper is joyous about the upcoming ceremony.

"It's almost like being knighted. It just can't get any higher than that."

Hooper's racing career with Thompson continued until General Motors pulled the plug on its racing sponsorship in 1963, which landed Hooper into sudden unemployment. The tragedy that day was that Hooper was about to race the very first Corvette Grand Sport at Le Mans in a few months. Duntov had even personally picked Hooper to test out the Grand Sport, along with fellow racers Dr. Dick Thompson and Masten Gregory, before GM stopped its sponsoring. "Zora and I were pretty close," Hooper says of Duntov. "Whenever I needed anything, I just called him up and he got right on it."

No longer employed with Thompson, Hooper decided to continue racing in his own 1957 Vette, and also opened up his own Corvette repair shop. He helped found the California Sports Car Club at this time, and taught young drivers through its driver-training program as an instructor for many years. He also branched out into some different racing fields, entering Formula 5000, Trans Am and Can Am races with his usual success.

Hooper was approached in 1992 by a Mr. Gene Schiavone, who managed to have in his hands the very same Grand Sport Hooper test drove 30 years ago for Duntov. The car was since transformed into a big block roadster, but needed some repairs. Hooper was surprised to find the legendary car at his shop one day, with Schiavone urging him to fix it up and race it. Hooper couldn't pass up this chance to finally race the car he was denied at Le Mans, so he did. In a three-year campaign, Hooper raced the Grand Sport twenty times, with the tracks ranging from Palm Springs to Watkins Glen. He placed in 19 of those races, winning 16 of them and placing second three times, setting a new win record for Grand Sports. The car was then sold in 1995 to Rob Walton of Wal-Mart fame. In 2001, he retired from both the police force and his repair shop, a year later moving up to Oakhurst to quietly spend his retirement days.