MOTOR RACING / BRIAN MURPHY : Modest Hooper Nears Sportsman Title


The second time around the Saugus Speedway track has made something special out of Lance Hooper of Palmdale. It has made him a leader. And soon, it might make him a champion.

Hooper, 24, stands on the verge of clinching his first Sportsman points championship in his second season at Saugus.

Hooper holds a commanding 49-point lead over Gary Sigman of Carson with two races remaining.


Barring disaster, he should clinch the title outright tonight.

Provided Sigman wins a trophy dash, fast heat and main event tonight--an unlikely turn of events--Hooper could finish seventh in the main event and still clinch.

But all season Hooper has been reserved, never popping off, never declaring that he is better than anybody else. Instead, he relies on race results to show that, in fact, he is better than anybody else.

So, even on the eve of what figures to be the crowning moment of his young career, Hooper remains diplomatic, cautious and patient.

Maybe even a little boring.

“Yeah, it seems likely (that I will clinch), but I can have bad luck just like anybody else,” Hooper said.

Press Hooper, and he’ll give it to you straight.

“I just don’t like to think about it,” he said with a small chuckle.

Fair enough. Let his driving do the talking.

Add Hooper: What Hooper will talk about, however, is his desire to join the NASCAR Southwest Tour.

He will take steps in that direction later this season when he will race in Southwest Tour events at Bakersfield on Oct. 12 and Phoenix on Nov. 2.

Hooper will race the No. 70 tour car that was formerly used by his brother, Ray Jr. Since midseason, Ray Jr. has been racing a tour car owned by chassis-builder Dave Jackson of Palmdale.

“I’m trying to get it together,” Hooper said.

“It’s still my brother’s car and I have no intention of buying it, but he’s letting me race it in the 200-lapper at Bakersfield and the final race at Phoenix.”

Hooper said that he’s still working on finding a motor and a sponsor.

When he does get on the track at Bakersfield, it will fulfill a goal for Hooper, who has stated that he would like to race on the Southwest Tour next season.

“It’s a big move,” Hooper said of racing on the tour. “I’ve always wanted to drive with that group of people.”

But Hooper does not yet have a tour car lined up for next year, and is hoping for something just this side of divine intervention to help him.

Said Hooper: “I won’t have one lined up until I win the lottery.”

Burning up: Harold Gino, 41, of Tujunga set a world land speed record with his 1941 Chevrolet during Speed Week at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The amateur event is an annual occurrence at Bonneville, and land speed records tend to drop like flies in several different divisions every year.

Gino’s car, complete with a 1958 inline-six General Motors truck engine, competed in the vintage branch of the Gas Coupe and Sedan Division at Bonneville.

Gino reached 141.621 miles per hour, breaking the record of 137 m.p.h., according to Gino.

When not traveling at record speeds, Gino is a market manager in North Hollywood.

He said he was a fan and participant in drag racing in the late 1950s and early 1960s and missed racing so much he got back into it.

“I had to get back into some aspect of racing,” he said. “And this is more laid back than anything else I could think of.”

Laid back? More power to you, Harold.

Add records: On Aug. 3, Scott Hooper of Woodland Hills and Darren Owens of Ridgecrest clocked the quickest side-by-side race ever recorded by gas-burning cars. The race was held in the final round of the Top Gas West Drag Racing Assn. event at Los Angeles County Raceway.

Hooper--no relation to Lance Hooper--won the race with a time of 6.80 seconds, edging Owens’ car, which clocked 6.86 seconds.

According to Howard Hooper, Scott’s father and co-owner of the car, the previous record for side-by-side cars’ combined time was almost 14 seconds.

Hooper’s car, co-owned by Robert Jung and named “Disruption,” has a slight points lead over the Owens family dragster, “It’s Only Money.”

The next Top Gas West event will be held at Bakersfield Raceway on Sept. 22.

A bit of a change: The NASCAR Southwest Tour will have a slightly different look next year, as officials announced a deal with the Skoal Bandit Racing Copper World Classic to open and close the tour’s schedule.

The tour, which combines with the Winston Cup to stage its final race at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 2, will open at Phoenix on Jan. 31-Feb. 2, 1992, and end at Phoenix in November of next year.

Phoenix is the site where the tour’s past three champions--Roman Calczynski, Dan Press and Doug George--clinched their Southwest Tour points championships.