While perusing NASCAR’s historical databases for some bits of information, I came across a name I’d never heard before, and one you likely haven’t come across, either; but by the time I was through researching, it became a name that I felt deserved further mentioning. Roscoe “Pappy” Hough may not jog the memory banks of modern race fans, but his innovations in the racing world have left an indelible mark on the sport we know and love today. “Pappy” represented a breed of both driver and mechanic whose mark was left far beyond NASCAR, their accomplishments stretching far beyond their years.
Born in Paterson, N.J., in November 1902, Hough raced – and won – in most of the 50 states and three countries during his long career. Although he made over 500 starts in cars of all kinds, winning a NASCAR Short Track Division championship in 1951, it’s probably as a car owner that Hough made his biggest mark.
In the 1940s, Hough owned five midget car teams, nicknamed the “Five Little Pigs.” His cars were known for their formidable speed, if not for their looks, a category which was secondary to Hough. Taking their “animal act” on the road, Hough’s teams often raced seven days a week – sometimes twice on Saturdays, from one end of the Northeast to the other. The cars – Nos. 78 to 81 – all traveled together on one double-decker trailer. Unloading in tandem at the track, they raced… and they won. Several times over, in fact.
The “Five Little Pigs” raced on tracks of all kinds through the years – from dirt ovals to short tracks to road courses… even the Nutley Banked Board Track in New Jersey. Just as its name implies, that track was “paved” with wooden boards – drivers actually had to guard against flying splinters as they raced. One of Hough’s drivers, Art Cross, later remembered that they would try all kinds of face shields to guard against the splinters, but mostly to no avail.
With years of success under his belt in other forms of racing, an aging Hough took his racing talent into the world of stock cars. “Pappy’s” brief career in NASCAR’s upper echelons began in 1951 and spanned four years. In that time, Hough made 21 starts, posting a career-best fifth-place at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester, N.Y., as well as six top-10 finishes. 47 years of age by the time NASCAR came to fruition, one could only wonder how much more Hough could have accomplished had the sport been established just 10 years earlier.
While his days driving a racecar came to an end during the 1950s, Hough stuck around the sport, continuing to build cars in his garage – located in the section of Paterson known as “Gasoline Alley.” One of the true “shadetree mechanics” who once peppered NASCAR and still pepper racing all across the country, Hough was tinkering with horsepower and handling his entire life. Never leaving the business he loved, he worked on his those racecars night and day until his death in 1996 at the age of 92.
While his name is more synonymous with open-wheel midget cars than with NASCAR, men like “Pappy” Hough deserve to be remembered for their dedication as well as their innovation. Without men like them, the sport of NASCAR would have never gotten off the ground… and the grassroots foundation of racing would never be so solid.
They’re the type of history we should never forget.
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