WINDSOR - Sometimes a local athlete represents more than just their community — sometimes it’s the entire province or region.
That’s true for Brandon Pemberton, a 16-year-old Windsor teenager who just brought home a national trophy in lightning-fast motorcycle racing championships.
“I’ve been racing now for four years; I started on a CBR 125 and I only raced here in Nova Scotia,” Pemberton said. “This year, I raced nationally in Ontario and Quebec and I did quite well.”
By quite well, Pemberton means he came in first place during the Canadian Kawasaki Ninja 300 Spec Series Championship.
“It’s been an awesome experience, travelling to all of the different tracks,” he said. “It’s really different going to a track you’ve never been on before and having to learn it. That adds a whole new difficulty into it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Reflecting on his recent big win, he said it was a good weekend where he
ended up being first in points.
“There were 14 or 15 bikes in it, and four or five of us were in the top. We were battling for the top all year.”
The drive to the track was 20 hours, and Pemberton said he was nervous the whole time. But, with his family and racing team in tow, he managed to pull it off.
Pemberton says he has already been considering what his next step will be, including moving up to a bigger, faster bike.
“There’s a lot to think about. I’ll definitely race next year; just don’t know what the plan is,” he said.
“There’s always the nerves of how fast you’re willing to go and if you want to be a front-runner,” he said. “It can be scary, but having started on a smaller bike, it makes that a lot easier to grasp.”
During the championship race, the top speed was 200 kilometres per hour. Most of the tight corners require racers to drag their knees on the pavement. Reflexes are key, as racer speed through the tracks.
“You get to practise beforehand. So, you show up, get in the right mindset and go as fast as you can,” he said.
Pemberton rides his dirt bike as often as he can when at home, pushing himself to prepare for getting back on the track.
Pemberton is also getting ready for Grade 11 at Avon View High School.
‘Knew he’d be competitive’
Jeff O’Leary, the owner of O’Leary Brothers Racing in Falmouth, is involved with Pemberton’s team.
“I noticed Brandon a long time ago. He never really raced before but came along and I asked him if it was something he’d like to do,” O’Leary said. “He fit right into our program. Took a few years to make it to the Canadian stage, but we knew he’d be competitive.”
O’Leary said Pemberton was shy at the start, but has since gained confidence and a versatile racing skillset.
“I think Brandon could win more Canadian championships on the larger bikes,” he said.
“His next progression would probably be a 600cc motorcycle. He would probably be in the amateur ranks for a year,” O’Leary said.
“It takes luck to win championships along with a lot of skill and he has a lot of skill,” he said. “The problem with any motorsports is sponsorship money.”
The next hurdle for Pemberton and the team is the funding issue. The cost of a bike at the 600cc level alone is usually close to $35,000.
“I think Brandon could be the top or one of the top racers in Canada on whatever motorcycle he gets on, with the right amount of sponsorship,” he said.
It’s not just the bike that’s costly at higher levels; the racers need more frequent tire changes, repairs, and technical support.
“Brandon is still really young, but he’s probably one of the smartest racers I’ve had the chance to work with,” O’Leary said.
“He just needs to develop as a young man. The more years and more experience he can get, the better he will be,” he added.
“Some of the racetracks from this year he had never seen before; one of them was in Quebec and he was three seconds a lap slower than the top guy,” he said. “By the end of the week he won the race — the fastest guy out there.”
Pemberton’s victory marks the O’Leary Brothers Racing (OBR) team’s second championship win so far.
OBR is the only Atlantic Canadian team to participate in all of the Canadian championship rounds, including super bike, sport bike and the Ninja 300.
“We’re all really proud of how well he did. It was a real honour to have him ride with us all year,” he said. “They sky’s the limit for Brandon. He could probably race in any series in the world.”