Last night’s feel-good story at Houston’s second Monster Energy Supercross clash was Justin Brayton’s podium performance.
At nearly 37, Brayton is a decade older than rivals such as Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb and Adam Cianciarulo – he could actually be old enough to be Chase Sexton’s dad…
It was certainly a special night for the Muc-Off Honda rider, “I’m not 37-years-old yet, I’m 36. These are hard to come by. I don’t care who you are, these are hard to come by. A 450 podium in this field, I’m sure nobody expected me to do this, especially at round two’ said Brayton, speaking at the track.
“Even doing what I did at round one surprised a lot of people. This new Honda is awesome and being with familiar faces – as I have raced with the team previously for four years – is awesome. It is just fun. It is a smaller team with a big effort. It is rewarding to get it done.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Brayton however. He had a close call in his heat race when Vince Friese’s wrecked motorcycle came flipping down the rhythm lane.
Neither was Brayton ‘gifted’ the podium result in any way. He had to fight past champions and fend off the biggest superstars in the sport in order to hold on to his position.
‘The whoops were my strong point all night and I wanted that to continue. Most guys were just going through the middle rut and I wanted to figure out a different way. I knew if I could go down the left side and really attack, I could make up some time, but I caught an edge and just swapped. It was a big mistake,” Brayton continued.
“I didn’t really know who was behind me. I knew that there were several guys there. The biggest thing that changed my race was when I started tripling from the inside out of the sand. Dylan passed me there, but once I started doing that I was able to manage the guys behind me.”
Those guys happened to be Cooper Webb, Ken Roczen, Marvin Musquin, Malcolm Stewart and Jason Anderson…
Last season Brayton filled the second spot under the Honda HRC awning that is now occupied by Chase Sexton. Meaning that the veteran racer had to switch teams for 2021. Thankfully he found a good home with a familiar group and he was able to bring his experience as a factory pilot to this privateer outfit.
“It was amazing being at Honda. It was a lifelong dream, as it is for most people. Going to the team I didn’t know Kenny that well, but we ended up as best buddies and struck up a great friendship. I think my starts really sucked last year. I don’t have the blazing speed to come from 12th to first, so I really need to get good starts to execute a race.
“Last year I came out with heat win at A1 but then broke my hand at Daytona and seemed to be a few tenths off the pace all the time. This year I spent a lot of time in North Carolina preparing, then I went to California for a couple of weeks and did my final prep with Ken which helped.
“I was almost a second off his pace to start with, but by the time we got to the race I’d closed that gap. He is one of the fastest guys on the planet so to be able to have a friendship like that with him and ride together quite a lot was really cool. I’ve learnt a tonne from him. This 2021 Honda is amazing, it’s a really good bike and here we are.”
It was an emotional night for Brayton and his entire Muc-Off Honda team, particularly for team owner Yarrive Konksy: ‘It’s massive. I rode for him for four years in Australia and really hit it off. I love how passionate he is and it’s really motivating for me to do it for a guy like that who puts his own money in the team, and now ultimately, he is over here living his dream.
“To get a podium in our second race together is unheard of really. It’s so cool for a privateer team, we‘ve talked about it for a while and now here we are. It means a lot to me to get him that podium. He is a racer, so I love seeing the tears in his eyes.”
There’s a reason not many 36-year-olds have ever been competitive in Supercross. It’s a young man’s game for sure. None of this is lost on the ever-humble Brayton: “I think it’s awesome. To do it on this team. To do it at my age. To keep plugging away and working hard in the off season and not get talked about too much, it’s cool. You never know when your last one is going to be and I don’t have too many years left in me. These are hard to come by, so you have to enjoy them. I’m super proud of the team and myself and the work we’ve done.”