Isaac Chapple is a man who is easy to root for. His approach to the sport speaks to a seemingly simple time when cars were maintained in the family garage and carried sponsors like Town Tavern and Ed’s Salvage. He is, first and foremost, a privateer at heart and totally hands-on by both necessity and preference. It’s not always been easy. Between moments where he has caught a glimpse of blue sky, he has also taken his share of lumps. Yet the response has always been the same. You dust yourself off, try to get a little better, and make plans to hit the highway once again.
His resilient nature comes naturally. He is the oldest of eight boys born to Lincoln and Rebecca Chapple and was raised near the little burg of Willow Branch, Indiana. His father is a contractor by trade, usually dealing in commercial properties. As one can imagine, Rebecca has had her hands full, and with a range of kids between ages seven and 25 she still can’t slow down. On top of it all, and well before Isaac had his mind set on going racing, the decision to homeschool the children had already been made.
Now, as a relative newlywed and truly facing adult responsibilities head on, Chapple has nothing but admiration for his parents. He claims to have acquired his own work ethic and never quit attitude from watching his dad do everything he could to support his family. As for Rebecca, who handles all the predictable chores that comes with raising eight children while also serving as the homeschool teacher, he can only shake his head and say, “She really is a superhero mom.”
Lincoln Chapple may have worked hard, but he also wanted to make a little room for play. He was an avid race fan and finally couldn’t resist the urge to get a bit more involved. He built a stock car in his garage and began racing primarily at the historic and unique Mt. Lawn Speedway not far from home. And, sticking with the pavement, he sometimes ventured northwest to Anderson Speedway.
It was a hobby that provided respite from the daily grind for three or four years, but eventually he couldn’t ignore that Isaac kept tugging at his sleeve. “I told him every day how much I wanted to race,” Isaac recalls. “And finally, when I was 10 or 11, he realized he couldn’t afford to race if I was going to do it too. My story is like a lot of racers’ stories. My parents’ help was huge, and they really helped me out my first couple of years. They got me on my feet and got me going.”
Things did not start out swimmingly. Chapple got a dirt bike and gave it a go one time. The end result was a broken arm. Father and son agreed four wheels were a better solution and began racing karts sporadically in New Castle, Indiana, and then moved to quarter-midgets. Because of his father’s heavy work schedule, he didn’t have the chance to race much, but he had been behind the wheel enough to realize he liked it.
He next jumped at a chance to race a Kenyon midget in a period when they were a part of a USAC regional series. Beyond the opportunity to stretch his legs a bit, more than anything he cherishes the time he spent learning from the incomparable Don and Mel Kenyon.
To this point nearly everything Isaac had done in racing had been on pavement, and he stayed in that environment when he first tried a full-throated midget. It was not an easy transition. “It was so expensive, then they seemed to be dying off,” he says. “So, we went and got a dirt midget.”
Chapple can only laugh now and admit that this was also fraught with error. “I’m 14 or 15 and I have never driven on dirt,” he says. “Even in a kart. That was a huge learning curve. And we figured out quickly we had no idea what we were doing. My dad and I were lost.”
Then a chance event turned everything around. Perusing the Indiana Open Wheel website, Lincoln Chapple saw an ad that caught his eye. Tim Clauson was in search of an intern to work for his race team. Isaac was too young to get a driver’s license at the time, but he got the position. Rebecca Chapple consented to make the 30 minute drive to the Clausons’ shop, with the stipulation that Isaac stayed on top of his schoolwork.
Benefiting from the inherent flexibility of homeschooling allowed Chapple an opportunity to get a first class education in the ins and outs of racing. It was unquestionably one of the most important periods in his life. “I would pack a bag and stay a day or too,” he says. “Then I would go back home, do laundry, and go back. At the time, the shop was at a house. Bryan lived there, and a lot of crew guys lived there on and off. The shop was an old pole barn. It was a fun time. Everything was simple.”
He had arrived at the time that Tyler Courtney had just departed to pursue his own racing dreams, but to say he was front and center at a heady time would be a vast understatement. “Those were years I will never forget,” Isaac says. “Awesome memories. I learned so much from everybody that was around. The first year I was there, Big Al (Scroggins) was there, Michael Dutcher was there, and A.J. Bray, who was the best man at my wedding. The following year it was just me and Big Al.”
Another turning point came when he was invited to go with the team to the Chili Bowl. They would pay his way, of course, but beyond that he was a bit on his own. Then Bryan Clauson summoned him to the trailer. Clauson was prepared to offer Chapple a job, but first he was going to make his potential new hire do a bit of work. “He asked me what I thought I needed,” Isaac remembers.
“And you know you aren’t going to make a lot as a 16-year-old working on midgets. But Bryan wanted an explanation for everything. He told me to put down on paper what I had for bills and expenses to make it for a week. So I needed gas to get to the shop, I needed to pay my cell phone bill, pay my truck insurance, and have a little bit to eat a couple of nights a week. We agreed on $250 a week. That’s what it was. But all I wanted to do was race.
“My first day as a paid employee was the first day I got my driver’s license. My mom took me to the BMV that morning. I passed my test, and I went home and quickly put my license plate on my truck and I made it back after lunch.”
As one could imagine, spending two years watching Bryan Clauson race and rubbing shoulders with some of the best crew chiefs in the game paid dividends. When Chapple resumed his career in a dirt midget he was no longer totally lost. He raced a bit with USAC and POWRi and actually scored a victory in Montpelier, Indiana. Nonetheless, he still didn’t feel they had the finances to go midget racing; plus he had always had a dream to race sprint cars.