Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/3/2017 (1916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
George E. Chapman is spending the first day of his retirement behind the wheel, a 3,000-kilometre drive south from Winnipeg then west to Phoenix, Arizona.
It’s a fitting send-off for a former Canadian national race car champion, although this drive will certainly be longer, slower and less flashy than his winning laps. Instead of the sleek, yellow Lotus 23B Chapman raced to victory in 1966, he’ll be driving a Honda Accord. Instead of being the sole driver, Chapman will share the wheel with "a lady friend" who he became quite close to during his running days.
"A plain Jane car," he calls it on a chuckle.
Looking dapper in a suit with an Air Force pin affixed to his lapel, the 88-year-old lawyer took a break from recycling decades worth of old case files on Tuesday to talk about flying airplanes, winning car races, running marathons and everything else he managed to jam into a career that spanned more than six decades.
"I haven’t gone to jail," Chapman jokes. "Everything I’ve done is legal and all."
Chapman was born on Christmas Eve, 1928, five years after his father, George T. Chapman, founded the law firm that would become Chapman Goddard Kagan. It was a community firm serving St. James — then the city, now the westerly neighbourhood — and Chapman himself is a lifelong Winnipegger.
He studied science at the University of Manitoba and then attended its law school, graduating in 1954. Having been involved throughout university with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)’s reserve program, Chapman wanted to become a pilot, but didn’t because RCAF wanted him to be an Air Force lawyer instead (they would later make him an honorary colonel).
So instead of the military, he joined his father in private practice; Chapman became Chapman and Chapman. But Chapman, then just 25, never settled fully at his desk. A job meant he finally had enough money to regularly race the MG car he’d bought three years earlier, inspired by watching his first race in 1951 on the streets of Watkins Glen in New York.
"I wanted to make sure that I’d have enough money to repair it if I crashed it or banged it up," he says. But once he started driving the MG regularly, Chapman wanted more.
"I bought a succession of cars after that," he says, "I got very deeply involved in car racing."
Everyone at the firm came to expect Chapman ducking out on Thursdays to travel across Canada to race. He’d come back on Mondays, interspersing court work and paperwork with whatever repairs were needed to make his cars race-ready again.
"I’m very fortunate," Chapman says, grateful for "excellent staff" and a few partners who took on additional responsibilities to lighten his load. In 1966, behind the wheel of the yellow Lotus 23B he’d just bought in an attempt to be more competitive, Chapman won the Canadian Racing Driver Championship in the ninth of nine races. He’d been tied with one other driver after the eighth race and managed to cross the finish line just ahead of the other driver in the final race.
"I drove as best as I could," Chapman says.
Then, nearing 40 and at the pinnacle of his career, he retired from car racing. Chapman kept only the steering wheel. It hangs now on his office wall, one of several mementos from an active life that he’ll soon box up and carry home. Under the photos of his parents, his three sons and daughter, and five grandchildren, sits a model airplane. Chapman never did become a military pilot, but he did fly. With his own license — and for a while, his own plane — Chapman flew west to cities such as Calgary and south to places as far as Ohio. He was even a past president of the Western Canadian Aviation Museum, one of many community appointments over the years.
Although he slowed down, Chapman never lost his competitive edge. He took up running in his early 50s. Over the next 30 years, Chapman finished two dozen marathons and even more half-marathons. In 1988, he crossed the finish line of the Manitoba Marathon in three hours and six minutes. It was a new personal best at age 60.
"It’s really no big deal if you pace yourself, if you train," he says. "If you determine your own limitations, it’s not a big deal to run a marathon."
For his determination to push the boundaries of his own limitations, Chapman’s been recognized repeatedly. He’s been inducted in the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Motorsports Hall of Fame, as well as the Manitoba Runners’ Association Hall of Fame.
Although Chapman gave up running in 2008 when a close friend was diagnosed with a health condition that forced him to give up the sport, the duo still walk regularly together through Assiniboine Park: five kilometres on weekdays, more on Saturdays.
It is one of the few things Chapman can say with certainty he’ll do more of now that he’s retired.
"There are some things I want to do," he says, but he’s not quite ready to elaborate.
"I want to sit back and just assess life and travel a bit."