WILKINSON — Lincoln Chapple likes to say that when his son, Isaac, isn’t working or driving a car, he’s thinking about doing those two things.
In Isaac’s defense, he can’t afford to think about anything else these days. Not with the biggest race of his life coming up.
Isaac, a 17-year-old from Wilkinson, is gearing up for the Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Okla., a four-day event referred to as the Super Bowl of midget car racing.
As of Tuesday, 284 drivers were set to compete in the dirt-track event. The field includes 16-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner Kasey Kahne and four-time defending Chili Bowl champ Kevin Swindell. NASCAR driver and native Hoosier Tony Stewart is a two-time winner of the race, but cannot compete this year as he recovers from a broken leg.
The Chili Bowl, which takes place in the Tulsa Expo Center, begins Jan. 14 as drivers go through various qualifying heats in an attempt to make the A-main field. Only 24 cars will take to the track on Jan. 18 in the final go-around.
“One of the biggest goals in midget racing is to win the Chili Bowl. The names who have been apart of it…to be on that list would be awesome,” Isaac said. “My goal is to be Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year. That would be a big deal too.”
The Chapples are keeping their expectations realistic for Isaac’s first trip to midget racing’s main event.
“We’re just looking forward to the experience,” Lincoln said. “It’s a marathon.”
Most of the drivers Isaac will be going up against have team of people working on their car, and it’s likely some drivers don’t even work on their vehicles before and after races. The opposite is true for Isaac.
Isaac Chapple Racing is a family operation. Father owns the cars and pays the bills. Son drives the cars. Both work relentlessly on their vehicles to keep them in top shape.
“He’s spent a lot of late nights in the shop with me. We’ve pulled some all-nighters,” Isaac said of his father. “It’s been a lot of work. I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at now without him.”
Lincoln drove stock cars during his racing days, but said the sport was more of a hobby for him. Isaac’s approach is a little different.
“It’s all he’s thought about since he was three or four years old. He grasped onto it and ever since then he’s wore me out with it,” Lincoln said with a laugh. “He’s 24/7 into it. When I was racing, it was more for fun. He’s serious.”
This past weekend, the Chapples traveled to northwest Indiana for the 16th annual Rumble at Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, a pavement race with a 41-car field.
Friday, Isaac was leading his heat when he clipped an infield tire and suffered damage to the front end of his car. After some overnight work, Isaac was back at it again Saturday. After starting in the rear of his 50-lap feature race, Isaac worked his way up to sixth before getting caught up in the aftermath of an accident. He finished 11th.
“It went pretty well,” Isaac said. “We went to race and have fun with some buddies.”
Isaac, who is home-schooled, also has a scholarship to the University of Northwestern Ohio lined up. He earned the scholarship to the small, not-for-profit institution in Lima, Ohio, through the USSA Kenyon Midget circuit. Isaac, a junior, believes he’ll pursue that opportunity once he graduates.
“I’ve done a lot of hands-on work over the years, that’s how I’ve mostly learned,” he said. “I’ll just go and learn the things you can’t necessarily learn hands-on.”
Ultimately, Isaac would like to make a living in midget racing, whether it’s driving or working on the cars. But for now, he’s focused on the Chili Bowl.
“It’s what he was meant to do,” Lincoln said.