Interview: Justin Brayton
We talk to the new Team Honda racer about his new team, his old sponsors, and his chances in 2012.
Justin Brayton has been slowly working his way up through the ranks for almost a decade in pro racing, and this year he took the final step, in terms of ranking teams, when he grabbed a spot on Team Honda, bringing one of his longtime sponsors with him. We caught up with him recently at the Honda track to find out how things are going for him, and what we should expect in 2012.
Motocross.com: You’ve been a contender for quite a few years and you’ve always been a guy who is consistently somewhere near the front, but sometimes it seems like you’re a nowhere-man because you’re close enough to the front that you’re smoking 75% of the field but at the same time it seems like nobody notices. Do you ever feel that way?
Justin Brayton: Totally. Yeah, I agree.
Why is that, do you think, and how do you fix it?
I think the biggest thing for me is to get to that next level I keep talking about it. I feel like I’ve kind of always been, or at least in the past few years, just kind of hovering right around fifth and I’m not really with that lead group but I’m ahead of the rest of the guys. It’s frustrating for me because everyone says, “You just need a little more to be with those front guys,” but those are the best guys in the world. They’re not slouches. I feel like the program I have this year with being on Factory Honda, there have just been some missing pieces. I feel like I’ve got them now. Everything is just lining up. During my whole career, I’ve just made small steps every year. If I make one more small step, that’s going to be winning races, and that’s what I’m looking forward to. It’s exciting for me and I’m really excited to be a part of Honda and the whole crew I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s pretty exciting. I think with just a few key things I’ll be at the front.
Making a 450cc main means you’re really good. Finishing top 10 means you’re even better. Finishing top five means you’re elite. But it’s funny that you don’t get credit.
Yeah, for sure. And honestly, coming from Arenacross and coming from Iowa, I never thought I’d even be a top ten guy or even make a Supercross main. I remember the first main I made, I couldn’t tell you how ecstatic I was to be in a Main Event and to do a parade lap. That was seriously a dream come true, just to do a parade lap in a Supercross Main Event. But I’m not going to stop. That was the goal then, and now the goal is to win races; to win championships. Like I said earlier, throughout my career it’s just progressing. We got a little bit better each and every year and I’m hoping to make that next step this year.
You might be the only guy currently with a factory ride who didn’t have a full-on ride straight out of amateur racing, too…
All through amateurs I didn’t really have much support at all; just the local shop. And then I went straight to Arenacross. That was always my dream, to race Arenacross.
Well, you’re from Iowa, and Des Moines is a big race in AX…
Yeah. Des Moines was always the season opener and that was the Anaheim 1 of Iowa motocross. Everyone went to the Des Moines Arenacross for the opener. When I got a chance to race that, I did really well. It just started snowballing. I’ve met a ton of great people that have helped me along the way. Buddy Antunez kind of took me under his wing at first and introduced me to some great people. Actually, one of the first shots I got was when Erik Kehoe called with a fill-in ride at the Factory Connection Honda team. A couple of guys were injured; I believe it was Travis Preston and Billy Laninovich were hurt… He wanted to know if I wanted to fill in or come race Supercross. It was kind of like a tryout. I was in Iowa just hanging out. I flew out, and I’d never ridden a Supercross track before, and I was racing the St. Louis Supercross that next weekend.
I remember that weekend. I’ve always been pretty close to the guys at Factory Connection. I remember you showing up. You did reasonably well, too!
Yeah. I did okay to start. I made every main, but then the last four races – I did six races – I think the last three or four I got top-10. That kind of opened more doors in Supercross at least. And I’ve been grinding it out ever since. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m glad that my name comes up when talking about guys who didn’t have rides straight out of the amateurs, because there are so many guys out there that don’t get that factory ride right out of amateurs. I mean, how many rides are available in any given year? Basically one or two? Everyone else has to do it the hard way and just not give up. Dreams do come true. It’s just hard work, and it takes time.
How did this Honda deal come together for you?
It was a few rounds into outdoors. To be honest, that’s always been my dream. I grew up riding Hondas. I know a lot of people say that once they sign with Honda, but for me it seriously is. It’s still crazy to this day. It just came up and I talked to Erik Kehoe on the phone one day. He said they were really interested. We just kind of kept talking at the races and talked a little bit during the week. The Gibbs guys didn’t really know what they were doing and what bike brand they were going to be on. I think they were going after [James] Stewart at the time. They kept saying they wanted to keep me but I didn’t know 100 percent how that deal was going to go down. Nothing against those guys at all; they treated me great. They’re an awesome team. But when the Honda thing came up, that was a no-brainer for me. I ended up flying out to California to have a meeting. My mind was set. Money aside, everything else aside, that was just where I wanted to be. It’s where I feel like I’m going to be the most happy and get a legit shot at winning. This is the best shot anybody has to win races and the championship. That goes a long way.
The last thing I wanted to talk about was the Muscle Milk thing. Muscle Milk has sort of followed you from KTM to JGR and now to Honda. How is that actually structured? How does that work out? Those have always been presented as team sponsors but it can’t be a coincidence that they end up wherever you are. What’s going on with that?
I’ve had a great relationships with Muscle Milk, since the KTM days. I’m good friends with Shane McCassy, who makes some marketing decisions for Muscle Milk. I treat those guys like family. When I’m up in the San Francisco area I’ll stop by just to say hi. I’m just myself and they really like it. They think my image is really good for their brand. It actually wasn’t planned at all with Honda. Shane and I talk as friends. I actually called him one day when I was in North Carolina. I actually thought he had a three-year deal with Gibbs; I wasn’t sure where it was at. I just called him and said, “Look, I’m going to take this opportunity at Honda.” He was pumped for me as a friend. He was super-pumped. I wanted to maybe do a personal deal and then things just started snowballing and here we are, Muscle Milk on my shroud and a Team Honda sponsor. It’s pretty cool. The best of both worlds. I was actually really bummed to leave Gibbs in general, but to leave a lot of my sponsors that I’ve been with for so long was tough, too. It was cool that we could keep my relationship with Muscle Milk going.
What would you be satisfied with in 2012?
For sure to be at the front a lot. Last year there were five guys at the front, and this year I want to make it six. That’s what I’m looking forward to. You can’t win three races or two races before you win one, though. So, my goal is definitely to go win a race and see what happens from there. That’s the hardest one to get. I want to get that first one out of the way, but that’s definitely the goal, to go win a race and then we’ll see from there. I think, like we talked about earlier, it’s just a small step. It’s time to take that small step. I’m doing everything possible right now. I’ve got the backing and I’m on the dream of a team with Honda. It’s all lining up. I’m looking forward to it.
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