Motorsports legend Dick Guldstrand thinks of fellow Corvette racer Doug Hooper like a brother. "Back in the '50s and '60s, we Corvette racers were like an old gypsy caravan. It was just a bunch of guys moving up and down the West Coast of California, going from race to race," Guldstrand recalls. "Our massive organization included two guys in a pickup truck towing their Corvette, accompanied by their small dog.
"I first met Hooper at a race in Willow Springs," he continues. "He was driving his white '57 Corvette. It was No. 119, the number he always used. Hooper was a very aggressive driver, and he was my inspiration to get into Corvette racing."
Hooper's close friend Noel Coward adds, "He was exceptional with fuel injection. Besides being an excellent driver, he was a great mechanic. He could really make a Corvette work. He opened up his own business, Hooper's Corvette Service, and soon had a huge following from local Corvette owners. Hooper's shop became the local Corvette hangout, and he was known as the 'Corvette Wizard.' He could make a Corvette run like nobody else."
Back on the racetrack, Hooper's tuning skills allowed him to set up his car so it was extremely difficult to pass in corners. "Hooper figured out how to get his car sideways in corners without losing any time on the track," Guldstrand says. "This made it extremely difficult to pass him; his car looked like a barn door in front of you. He was difficult to deal with on the racetrack, a fiercely competitive racer."
Coward owned an ad agency and was able to secure a small sponsorship for Hooper from one of his clients, Hanson Chevrolet. Another client, Mickey Thompson, contacted Coward in 1962 to report that he had secured a sponsorship from Chevrolet. The sponsorship included road racing a brand-new '63 Sting Ray at the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix. Thompson, being a drag racer, needed someone to pilot the car.
Coward introduced him to Hooper, who went on to drive Thompson's Sting Ray to victory in the Times event. After the race, Hooper continued his association with Thompson, driving GM-backed Corvettes. Their dreams of racing a Vette at Le Mans were dashed, however, when the company issued an edict banning official racing involvement. Hooper eventually left Thompson's organization, continuing to work at his shop and drive his '57 Vette in local racing events.
In 1970, Hooper became a reserve police officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. He found this part-time job both rewarding and exciting, and Guldstrand believes it even helped him become a better driver. "He learned how to lift the throttle when he had to and also push it down at the right time. He was never crazy with a race car. He was very capable of making spot-on decisions at critical times, [and] that allowed him to win races."
Coward thinks Hooper's Hall of Fame induction is long overdue, given the breadth and impact of his friend's accomplishments. We tend to agree. With more than 50 years of competition experience, Doug Hooper's contributions to Corvette racing are arguably unsurpassed.