GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Brandon Sommers

Tuesday Toolbox: Brandon Sommers

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 | 2:45 PM
Tuesday, June 16, 2015 | 2:45 PM

Brandon Sommers has been a GNCC staple for a number of years. The Racin’ Nation saw him come into prominence a few years ago with a Factory Yamaha ride. And of course, everyone was familiar with his mom and dad, Laz and Mary Ann Sommer,  founders of GT Thunder. There was great sorrow with their passing last year in a tragic small airplane crash. Since then, GT Thunder stickers have been abundant on ATVs and the GNCC family has rallied to show support for the Sommer’s family. We’ve noticed this year that Brandon and his wife have been hanging at the track and Brandon has even been racing here and there. caught up with him to see how things are. Hi Brandon! Thanks for taking time for a quick interview.

Brandon Sommers: My pleasure! I’m pretty grateful to be a part of this family, so ask away!

You have been around the GNCC lifestyle for a long time. What started it all?
My first GNCC ever was back in 2003 at Matthews Farms near High Point Raceway. My dad had gone to one earlier in the year and got the racing bug. He took me to one just to watch, and in the fall of ’03, I thought I would give it a try!

How did you do?   
[Laughs] Not good! It was maybe 7th, or 12th! It was bad enough to be forgettable! I was on a stock EX400 with no race experience. I had grown up riding three wheelers and dirt bikes, but it was mostly just goofing off. My dad would get a bike in at the shop and I would ride it around the yard or local trails. But when I ran that First Year Racer class at Matthews Farms, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do, even though I was no good at it!

Brandon Sommers attended his first GNCC in 2003, and shortly after that gave it a try for himselfPhoto: Ken Hill
Brandon Sommers attended his first GNCC in 2003, and shortly after that gave it a try for himselfPhoto: Ken Hill

How old were you for that first race?
I was 18.

No kidding?! That’s really old for starting out and then being able to go all the way to the pro ranks! How did you do it?
Well, I guess before that, my dad had bought me a dirt bike. It was the first four-stroke YZ250, so I guess that was 2001? I would go to the local motocross track and ride. I really sucked! But man, I had so much fun! So when I tried that race on a 4 wheeler, I was hooked. I started bicycling, eating right and working with my dad in the shop just to learn and be around them more. In 2004, I raced one of the C classes. I started out a little slow, but as the season got going, I grabbed a 3rd, then a 2nd and finally started winning! I won my class that year and bumped to B class, then A class, then Pro-Am. Finally, in 2008, Yamaha offered me a XC1 ride.

That’s really cool! How long did that last?
I rode with Yamaha for 3 years. So, my last year racing was 2010. And by then, honestly, I was burned out. I just felt it was time to take a break. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I still loved being at the track and being involved, but I’d lived it for so long and come so far. I was also getting married and my dad’s shop (GT Thunder) was growing…just a lot going on!

After taking a break from racing, Brandon would still come to the races to help out Photo: Ken Hill
After taking a break from racing, Brandon would still come to the races to help out Photo: Ken Hill

We still saw you coming to the races.
Yeah, GT Thunder sponsored Brian Wolf and I would come to the track to help out. GNCC is really like a family and so it was good to be around and I was happy to help Brian. After that, we started helping a bunch of people and I would pop in here and there. Truthfully, that was kind of hard. After every GNCC, I would determine to go home and train, get in shape and come race! But by Monday morning, life would get in the way and I never made that comeback!

You did race a little bit, though?
Yeah, I probably averaged two races a year. I actually got really big into R/C Car racing. That was fun because it was laid back. Training and nutrition weren’t as important and it was just fun! No pressure and it was still an outlet for that competitive drive!

I believe on one of those “two races per year,” you actually rode a Yamaha Blaster in the morning race?  
Yes I did! It was the year it was blazing hot! And man, that was tough! I had been bicycling lately just for fun, but you basically do that in your skivvies. With all the moto gear on, that race was hot. I started to get cold chills about ½ way through. I remember pulling off and jumping into some kiddie pool that was in the pits. I just laid there and cooled off! I probably should have quit the race, but I was always taught to finish what you start, so I continued after I cooled down! I didn’t place very well, but I did take the checker flag! 

Brandon has been riding the morning Sportsman A/B ATV class this season, and he says he has really been enjoying himself! Photo: Ken Hill
Brandon has been riding the morning Sportsman A/B ATV class this season, and he says he has really been enjoying himself! Photo: Ken Hill

Last year was a tough one. (Referring to the passing of Brandon’s parents in the aforementioned plane crash.) I know you had some tough decisions to make regarding GT Thunder and what to do next in life.
Yeah, dad and I had talks of what to do with the business. He was the brains and energy behind it. I enjoyed working with him and doing the hands-on stuff. But I never wanted to take it over. So when he passed, I had to decide what to do. Obviously, I took care of the existing customers and made arrangements for them to get what they needed. Maybe in different circumstances, I would have taken on pieces of it. But, we didn’t have ideal circumstances and when it all goes south, you back to what you know! I don’t know how to run a business, but I know how to work. My dad taught me that if a man will work, he can always provide a way.

What are you doing these days?
I’m working for Matt Hanna at Hanna Electric. I really enjoy it! It’s back to working with my hands and learning new things. It’s pretty similar to working with my dad in the shop. I get hands-on experience and have an expert to show me the ropes. I’m learning quick and haven’t zapped myself yet!

We’ve seen you at some GNCC races this year! How did that come about?
Just hanging out with Matt Hanna and Dustin Hendershot. Dustin and I became pretty good friends last year when all that happened. We had been racing R/C Cars together and he was a big support to me getting through losing my mom and dad. And now, being around both these guys has inspired me to get back to racing! I started with a couple Vet A classes. However, I’m a morning person and I prefer to start earlier and ride in the cool of the day on a smoother track! So I’ve been doing some Sportsman A/B races and having a blast!

It’s fun to see you back out there! And, we see your wife with you and she has a big smile every time!
She loves being at the track with me. Sometimes, your closest family isn’t blood and that’s what makes GNCC so great. There are so many people that we get to share life with.

Congrats to Brandon and his wife as they are expecting a little boy! Photo: Ken Hill
Congrats to Brandon and his wife as they are expecting a little boy! Photo: Ken Hill

Speaking of, didn’t you just share something with us on social media?
Yep! My wife and I just made the announcement on Facebook that we are expecting a little boy! We are going to name him Cooper Marshall Enoch Sommers. Marshall is Erica’s grandmother’s maiden name and Enoch is my dad’s middle name. We are really excited! 

I know you are! And we are excited for you! Thank you for sharing with the Racin’ Nation! Who would you like to thank as we wrap this up?
I guess just everybody out there that we have a great time with. Couldn’t ask for a better group of people to hang out with. There are also a host of sponsors that have helped me in the past. I couldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them. So, thank you to FLY Racing, Pirate MX, Rath Racing, BnR Racing, Greg’s ATV, Yamaha – I really appreciate all that they did. Maxxis Tires. They helped me so much over the years. Flex Handlebars, Precision Stabilizers, The Chirdon Family – they are really good friends and help me all the time. Especially Blake and his company Pro Graph-X. The WEXCR crew. GNCC/Racer Productions – they’re really doing a top notch job. Matt Hanna, Bill Hanna and the whole family. They’ve really been there for me. The Hendershot family. GT Thunder, of course! Wiseco, Hyper. The Lord for everything. Sometimes life is tough and you have questions. But you have to have faith, believe and move on. Lastly, my wife. She’s amazing! She’s going to make a great mother!

Thanks for talking to us, Brandon! What’s the next GNCC we will see you at?
I’ll be at Snowshoe. I won’t be racing because I want to save my machine! But, I’ll probably race St. Clairesville.

Fantastic! We will see you there!
Sounds good!