Justin Brayton is a racer’s race. He’s a consummate professional, a clean and composed rider on the track, and well spoken during interviews. What I like about Brayton is that he doesn’t put on an act. He’s a genuinely good human being first, and a racer second. It was nice hearing that Justin was returning to the Geneva Supercross, a race that he had won four times in the past. I was fortunate to get the invite from the Geneva Supercross promoters. My first stop upon entering the cavernous Palexpo arena was to say hello to Justin Brayton. We got to talking and he was kind enough to grant an interview.
The past few months have been a whirlwind for Brayton. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for his phone to ring about a job in 2017, he took the initiative to chat up Honda about racing the Australian Supercross series. The conversation couldn’t have gone much better. Honda floated Justin some factory components, including works Showa suspension. He promptly floored the field Down Under. About that time budget opened up for American Honda to offer support beyond Geico Honda. It just so happened that Justin Brayton joined MotoConcepts Racing, and Honda put money into the program. What does all of that mean? I’ll let Justin explain.
By John Basher
Congratulations on inking a deal with MotoConcepts racing for 2017. Can you explain the details of the contract?
I’m stoked to sign a contract with Smartop MotoConcepts Honda for a Supercross-only deal in 2017. I get the opportunity to ride the 2017 Honda CRF450, which I’m really excited about. I’m looking forward to being around some good people. You know, I think Mike Genova has been in it a long time and has been very successful doing it on his own. Now with Tony Alessi managing the program for the past few years, he’s really involved. Tony has the racer mindset. He gets the racing side, but also the technical side of the sport. I’ve only been a part of the team for a month or so, but there have been mornings where I’ll get a text message from Tony at 4 am on the west coast. He always lets me know what’s going on, which is really cool. It just shows how dedicated he is, and the team is, to doing well. Getting some support from Honda has been awesome, and I think everything on the team has stepped up to the next level. I’m looking forward to getting some good results for them.
What kind of support are you receiving from factory Honda?
It all came about with me doing the Supercross series in the Australia. I still have good relationships with the factory Honda guys in the U.S. I think really highly of Dan Betley, the team manager, and all of the staff. They’re really good people. Just through friendships and keeping good contacts there it has worked out. I wanted to be on a Honda, so I was racing a Honda in Australia. The U.S. race team was actually a huge part in lining that up. Everything came together, and it made sense for everyone. I actually had my best year of my career–2012–with Honda. To be back on Honda is pretty special.
“GETTING FACTORY SUSPENSION IS A HUGE COMPONENT, ESPECIALLY NOWADAYS WITH BIKES BEING SO GOOD. I’VE HEARD FROM COLE AND KENNY THAT THE NEW CRF450 IS REALLY GOOD, AND THAT’S WITH NOT MANY FACTORY PIECES OR PARTS EVEN ON IT.”
Are you going to be racing a full factory 2017 Honda CRF450, like what Ken Roczen and Cole Seely will be on?
No, it won’t be the same bike. I will be getting some support from Showa, which I’m super thankful for. We’ll see how things play out. I haven’t been to California yet, and I actually haven’t even ridden the 2017 bike yet. I fly to California first thing Monday morning to start testing. From what I’ve heard, the 2017 CRF450 is really good in standard form. We’re going to get some engine work, and I’ll have some chassis parts that MotoConcepts will help with. Getting factory suspension is a huge component, especially nowadays with bikes being so good. I’ve heard from Cole and Kenny that the new CRF450 is really good, and that’s with not many factory pieces or parts even on it. I’m excited about that. I can’t wait to get to California to get rolling.
“I FEEL LIKE I’M BETTER AT SUPERCROSS, AND I STILL FEEL LIKE I CAN WIN A SUPERCROSS RACE. I DON’T FEEL LIKE I COULD WIN A NATIONAL, EVEN ON MY BEST DAY.”
Was it hard making the decision to race Supercross only for 2017?
It wasn’t hard at all for me this year. Last year it would have been very difficult to say that. It’s funny, I talk to people who have either retired and moved on from a job. They tell me that I’ll just know when it’s time, and I’m at the point where I just don’t want to race outdoors anymore. It’s not that I don’t like it or don’t enjoy it. I love the work ethic you have to put in to race the Nationals. I love all of the tracks. It’s just the schedule is too hard for me. I feel like I’m better at Supercross, and I still feel like I can win a Supercross race. I don’t feel like I could win a National, even on my best day. A great day at the Nationals would be a top-five finish. That won’t be on a consistent basis, either. In Supercross, there will be weekends where I can win heat races, be on the podium, and if things go really good then I can still win a main event. I’m definitely not done with Supercross. I believe for the next year or two I’ll go back and race in Australia. It just made sense for me and my family to not do the Nationals. The biggest thing is my personal life. I would like to take off a few months from racing. It’s not that I won’t ride. I’ll still go down to ClubMX and do motos with the outdoor guys. I have some plans to possibly race the Mountain Bike Nationals this summer. I just want to enjoy riding. Really, though, it will only be about two months where I don’t have to worry about lining up on a gate.
How was your experience down in Australia?
It was unbelievable. I’ve wanted to race the full Supercross series in Australia for a long time now. I went down there in 2010 and raced the first three rounds. It’s kind of funny, but I came back from Australia and a week and a half later I met my now wife, Paige. Her and I always talked about Australia because it was so fresh in my mind. Since we met we had talked about going to Australia. It really helped that things worked out with American Honda and Honda of Australia. We put the deal together at the last minute. I took my family down there and we stayed for a couple of months. We had a great time. The racing was awesome, but more than that, it was family time. My daughter is 2-1/2, and she got to enjoy the beaches and parks. My wife and daughter came to all of the races, which was super cool. The team in Australia was super welcoming and supportive of my family being around. I know it can sometimes be a hassle for teams and guys to be around a 2-1/2 year old all of the time, but they were good. My daughter Parker had a ball. It’s going to be something that we’ll look back on years from now and recall how it was the trip of a lifetime. I’d like to go to Australia for a couple more years and then reassess from there.
Why does coming to Geneva and racing the Supercross make sense to you?
It has made sense for me my whole career. I really enjoy racing. When I was younger, and when I first started racing Supercross, I would always practice really well. At the test tracks I would be the fastest, or one of the fastest riders of the teams I have been on. Then I would show up to the races and not feel that good or be comfortable. I would tighten up. I made a decision early on that I needed to race more. I had the test tracks dialed, and I didn’t need much testing time. Once I’m in a window as far as settings go, I can ride the bike on almost any track. It has made sense for a long time, and it still does, to go racing. There’s nothing even like the feeling of waking up on a race day. I’m just a bit more nervous on those mornings. I like that feeling. I want to be a better racer.
Thanks for your time, Justin. Good luck in 2017.