Through the Glass: Competition Turns into Friendship

Aaron Bradford and James Chapman met at Auto Glass Week 2021 in June as competitors in the Auto Glass Technician Olympics. Chapman, from Zanesville, Ohio, won third place, while Bradford placed fourth.

“He beat me by one point,” Bradford says.

However, both men walked away from the competition with something priceless: a new friendship. “We competed against each other,” Chapman says, “but our wives are why we met.” In the audience, their wives struck up a conversation about hiking.

During competition, the two men got to chat and form a friendship after discovering that not only do they love auto glass, they also have a lot of common interests outside the industry. After the competition, Chapman says, both couples attended the awards ceremony together. “Because Aaron is a super solid dude, very humble and respectful,” Chapman says of why their friendship formed. Chapman says Bradford made him feel comfortable to be around him.

Aaron Bradford of Georgia and James Chapman of Ohio replace a windshield together for one of Bradford’s customers.

James Chapman, Aaron Bradford, Lisa Chapman and the Chapmans’ daughter formed a friendship after attending Auto Glass Week 2021.

“I think we both just have so many common interests outside glass [and a shared love of auto glass],” Bradford says of why he thinks he and Chapman’s friendship flourished. They both enjoy riding bicycles, backpacking and camping.

Just before Thanksgiving, Chapman and his wife, Lisa, visited Bradford and his wife, Caitlin O’Neil, in Georgia to get away from cold weather in Ohio, but also to celebrate James Chapman’s birthday. The two couples rode bicycles and ate at local restaurants. Bradford had a client who needed two windshields replaced, and he was going to wait until after his guests from Ohio left, but he and Chapman ended up replacing the windshields together. “We’re both kind of auto glass dorks like that,” Bradford says.

Chapman, who is an auto glass technician for Richardson Glass Service in Newark, Ohio, says he wanted the opportunity to visit Georgia to do a couple of auto glass jobs with Bradford, and the plan was for Chapman to watch Bradford perform a calibration, but that job fell through. “Obviously, the interest is there to learn as much as I can with my profession,” Chapman says.

Bradford, who grew up in Richmond, Va., and attended Virginia Tech, is owner and operator of Driftwood Auto Glass in Brunswick, Ga. He opened the business almost four years ago, but has been in the auto glass industry for 20 years. He was a carpenter, and served as an adult leader on a camping trip to Maine with the Boy Scout Troop he was a member of as a child. The other adult leader was working in auto glass. “[The trip] ended up being a life-changing thing,” Bradford says.

Chapman raced Motocross in high school. “So I had a lot of mechanical ability,” he says. From 1997 to March 2003, he was a basket maker for Longaberger. In September 2003, he saw an advertisement in a newspaper for a former auto glass company named Champion, based in Utah but looking to open a shop in Ohio. “They were wanting to have an auto glass trainee.” Between his mechanical experience and craftsman experience as a basket maker, Chapman responded to the ad.

Bradford says he had so much fun at Auto Glass Week in June that he plans to continue to attend every year. “It was a great show they put on,” he says. And now when customers ask him if it makes him nervous for them to watch while he installs glass, he can tell them “not at all.”

As for Bradford and Chapman’s friendship, the two will be at Auto Glass University in Nashville in February. Bradford will be an instructor and Chapman a student.

Bradford says both plan to compete in Auto Glass Week 2022. Chapman is also looking forward to the event. “I’ve already started preparing for next year’s competition,” Chapman says.

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