Bluevale-area boy earns spot with Team Thor-Kawasaki
BY DENNY SCOTT
Bluevale-area youth Caleb Vankoughnett recently inked a deal with Kawasaki that will see the 11-year-old traveling across Canada next year to race for motocross Team Thor-Kawasaki.
Vankoughnett has been riding since he was just three-and-a-half years old, he says, and was in his first race when he was four.
Last Thursday, just hours before he and his family headed down to Georgia for training, Calebtold The Citizen that when he first found out about the contract, which is for one year, he didn’t really process it.
“My dad spoke to Chad Goodwin, who is the team manager of Kawasaki,” he said. “They talked back and forth and one day, we got an official offer and my dad told me. I couldn’t wrap my head around it at first, I was absolutely dumbfounded.”
It was a natural fit, Caleb’s father Chris said, as Caleb had already been riding Kawasaki bikes for two years and the team wanted to get him signed early.
“This contract is for one year, but with the intention that Caleb will stay with Kawasaki when he goes from [his current] 65cc class to pro rank, or 450 maybe in another five years,” he said. “It’s a one-year contract because this is his last year on a 65cc before he moves up to the bigger bikes, and Kawasaki wants him long-term.”
Being part of the Thor-Kawasaki team will mean moving around the country more, Caleb said. While he has participated in races all over Ontario and parts of Quebec, with the new contract and new team, he will be travelling across Canada.
“It’s a big investment, timewise,” Caleb said, with Chris adding that, because of how much time and effort is involved, the entire family had to weigh in on the decision.
Caleb’s Kawasaki career will begin with a race in Kamloops, British Columbia, on June 5, Chris said.
The contract and the opportunity are a big deal, Chris said, likening Caleb’s situation to players being signed to minor league affiliate teams in the National Hockey League.
“Motocross may not be a really widely known sport around this area,” Chris said. “There’s a lot of hockey, and a lot of people ride dirt bikes, buty they don’t know about the racing and the competitiveness of it. Anyone able to get a sponsorship like this, it’s a huge thing, a once in a lifetime type of deal.”
He went on to say that Kawasaki considers this a mentorship program and that the team’s management said the positions are in high demand.
Caleb said he is glad to be a part of it, adding he couldn’t have done it without the help of his family.
While racing is a big part of his life, practising twice a week and now building a home track to get even more track time in, Caleb said he also plays soccer at school and pick-up hockey with friends on Friday nights. He also, alongside his family, often goes fishing, sometimes on their way to or from his races.
Caleb also said being signed by Kawasaki is funny, in his opinion, because when he was young he contracted the relatively-rare Kawasaki’s disease, an illness that traditionally presents in people younger than five years old and causes inflammation of the blood vessels. Chris said Caleb contracted the disease right around the time he started riding dirt bikes.
While his father Chris did ride in his youth, Caleb said the real family connection he has with racing is that he and his family now spend time together at the track whenever they can.
“We all like to hang out together at the races,” Caleb said. “I’m the one that’s always in the races, but we all hang out.”
Chris agreed, saying that Caleb’s racing had begun as a family weekend.
“It was good, and really casual,” Chris said. “We’d go to a track for the weekend, hang out, slow down and relax.”
Chris said his entire family was involved at the races, from Caleb’s racing to other members finding jobs at the site.