Stock car team heads to big race firing on all cylinders

Jaden Chapman, 25, and his custom built Chevy Impala stock car. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

A Sarnia driver with one of the smallest racing teams and tightest budgets has qualified for the big one — the Canadian Short Track Nationals.

Jaden Chapman will line up against 35 other racers at the Jukasa Motor Speedway on Labour Day weekend, after winning a qualifier at Delaware Speedway in June.

It’s something of a David and Goliath story for the licensed mechanic who will compete for a $75,000 purse at the 250-lap event.

The Short Track Nationals draws teams from across Canada and the U.S. Even four prospects from NASCAR team owner Kyle Busch’s development camp are racing the oval in Cayuga, Ont.

“It’s essentially Canada’s version of the Daytona 500,” said Chapman, 25.

The SCITS grad isn’t banking on a big payday. In fact, he jokes, the way to make a million dollars at racing is to start out with four million.

“We say any night the car comes home in the trailer in one piece is a good night,” he said.

Chapman races in the pro-light division. His car, based on a late-model Chevrolet Impala, is completely custom and powered by the same 450 horsepower engine as the division’s other cars.

The vehicle is worth about $30,000, a fraction of some competitor cars, which can run at more than $100,000.

His racing team is comprised of Chapman, wife Jessica, his father and a handful of close friends. About seven members normally attend a race, each with specific duties.

New addition David Larocque recently moved to Sarnia from Windsor.

“I’m hoping to know everything on this car for next season,” said Larocque, an apprentice mechanic. “I grew up around race cars my whole life.”

Jessica Chapman has been hitting the track with her husband since 2011. It was a strange new culture then but she now considers it a second home.

“We got married last year, and the next weekend we were racing,” she said with a smile. “It has really become another piece of me.”

She manages the crew on race days, prioritizing the maintenance and repairs so their driver can focus on driving.

Jaden Chapman has had very few mishaps. But in 2012 he hit a wall at top speed after a competitor’s damaged transmission left an oil slick in his path. He remembers waking up in hospital, he said.

But he was back on the track the following weekend.

Jessica Chapman says she does what she can to shut out the danger. “I know it is a possibility, I just don’t think about it,” she said.

Jaden Chapman has been able to keep their car in slicks for the 10-race Delaware season largely because of the generosity of his 13 sponsors.

And they’re all from Sarnia, he’s proud to say.

“That’s been my biggest rule. Sarnia has always been good to me.”

Jaden Chapman, left, works on the car with team member David Larocque and his wife and crew manager Jessica Chapman. Troy Shantz