It’s not really surprising that James Stewart dominated the Bercy Supercross over the weekend, but what is surprising is that MDK KTM’s Justin Brayton was clearly the second-fastest rider of the weekend in a talent-laden field of riders such as Kevin Windham, Josh Grant, David Vuillemin and Ben Coisy, among others. Brayton, who finished second in all six main events over three nights, was not an amateur champion; he put his name on the radar by racing the National Arenacross Series, which unofficially kicked off in Des Moines this past weekend as well—ironically, in his home state of Iowa. Still a bit groggy from his trans-Atlantic flight from France to Philly, then on to California, Brayton took time to chat with us for this 5 Minutes with… interview.
Racer X: Justin, which is better this time of year: racing Arenacross in Des Moines, Iowa, or racing supercross in Paris?
Justin Brayton: [Laughs] I would say racing supercross in Paris. That’s kind of always been a dream of mine to go there, and I always read about it in the magazines. But I also love Arenacross, and that’s what got me started, that first weekend in like 2003 in Des Moines.
Yeah, it’s like a 45-second or 50-second lap time, so that’s close to a supercross, but it is fairly tight—but definitely not as tight as Arenacross.
This isn’t your first time racing Bercy, correct?
No, I’ve actually been there the past two years.
Well, DC and everyone else says you were definitely the second-fastest guy behind James Stewart over there. Considering the depth of talent on the starting line, that’s really impressive.
It was really good, just how consistent I was all weekend long. Stewart is definitely the best in the world, and no one can beat him right now, so it’s good for me just to get some starts with him and learn from him. I felt like I rode pretty well. It’s a good pre-season warm-up for Anaheim I.
What were your expectations going in?
I definitely wanted to podium a couple nights, but I really didn’t expect to be the established second-place guy every night. I got great starts every race and that definitely helped a lot, but going in there were a lot of big names, and you can't count out the French guys like Vuillemin, [Eric] Sorby, [Steve] Boniface and Coisy. And with Windham and Josh Grant, they’re really great riders, too. I just wanted to go there and get some seat time and learn from Kevin and James. It was good to mix it up with them.
What goes through your mind when you’re pushing your bike to the line and you look over and see the number 14 and the number 7 lining up?
I know I’m up there and I know I need to battle with these guys. It’s always been a dream of mine to be the best in the world, and if I’m going to do that I need to race with them first and see what they’re doing. It was fun. The last night, Kevin got the holeshot off me and we raced together pretty clean and had some fun. James, obviously, was pretty far ahead, but a couple of the races I holeshot and led James for a lap or so. It was definitely awesome to go there and do what I did.
Monday Conversation we posted with James Stewart yesterday, but he said some really nice things about you.
Yeah, I actually read that. On the flight home, DC was telling me a little bit about it and he told me to go on there and check it out. That was actually one of the first things I did when I got home late last night. Any time James Stewart has something good to say about you, it’s an honor. I told him on the podium the last night that it was just an honor to race with him and I really respect what he does on a dirt bike.
So have you been doing anything differently lately, as far as practice or training, or are you just getting more comfortable on the KTM 450 SX/F?
I’m definitely really comfortable with the 450 – I always rode the big bike a little bit better. But I would say mentally I turned things around the past couple years. I’ve came from being an underdog my whole life and I’m always overshadowed because I wasn’t a ten-time amateur champion and I came from Arenacross. It’s time for me to be one of the guys. Sebastien Tortelli has been working with me a lot on the track, and I hired a new trainer in Charles Dao, and he’s helped me a lot mentally and physically. And with the help of MDK and KTM, I’ve got a great bike underneath me and great support, and it’s time for me to start winning and I’m up for the challenge. I’m switching back to the Lites class now, so I’m really looking forward to the West coast.
So that’s a definite; you’re racing Lites on the West coast?
Yeah, that’s definitely confirmed. I’m hopping back on a Lites bike tomorrow morning. I actually rode some of my teammates’ bikes out at the test track the past couple weeks, and it’s actually fun to jump back on a Lites bike – I feel really, really fast on it. I think the 450 has helped me on a Lites bike, so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and the next two months to prepare.
How was your 450 in France? They supply you with a bike, and you take over suspension, right?
It actually works out really well with KTM being in Austria. They have a mechanic drive me over a bike, and my mechanic Rich from here brings my suspension and all of the necessities we need to make the bike similar to what we have here in the States. KTM has been a big help and they really supported me a lot to go over and do that race.
Does it take a while to get the bike dialed in?
Not really. It felt pretty similar. Actually, the bike I raced at the U.S. Open and the X Games, it’s all stock. I just put suspension, bars, clamps and a pipe on it, and I’ve been racing it like that. That’s pretty much all we did in Bercy, too.
Looking back to Anaheim I last year, you opened up the series with a strong third-place finish in the Lites class. Unfortunately, you were unable to get back up on the box. What happened?
I made a lot of mistakes last year with the way I prepared for the season. I had shoulder surgery last summer, and like five weeks before the U.S. Open I just trained my tail off all the way until Anaheim I; I was just so excited to get that race going. I felt like I was really prepared, but I think I overworked myself. The week after Phoenix, I got really sick and just never recouped from that. I couldn’t ride or train during the week, so that hurt me mentally and physically. I felt like I learned my lesson, so that was kind of a blessing in disguise. I’m doing things quite a bit different, so I feel I’ll definitely be ready for all the races this year.
When the series heads east, will we see you on a 450 at those rounds?
I would love to ride a 450 on the east, but it just depends where I’m at in points. The plan is for me to win the Lites West Coast championship, so I’m going to focus on that first, and if everything goes well, I’ll just move up to the 450s for outdoors.
You headed back to Iowa for Thanksgiving?
Yeah, I’m going to head back and see some family. My mom and grandmother are flying to California this week to check out my house here in California, and then we’ll go back for Thanksgiving. I won’t be able to go back for Christmas because it’s so close to the season, but I’m looking forward to relaxing in the next couple weeks.
[Laughs] Yeah, that was pretty tough. They wouldn’t let me take them on the plane and I had to check them, so I figured they’d be in pieces when we landed in the States, but it all turned out all right. Everything worked out and they’re here safe and sound.
Well, it’s good to see you up there, Justin. You have anyone you’d like to thank?
Just the whole team for helping me out and supporting me. It’s a lot of work for everyone. Also, my mechanic, Rich, for doing all of the extra work. I want to thank my agent, Steve Aldaco, for lining everything up, and also Eric Peronnard for letting me come to Bercy. It’s quite an honor. I’d also like to thank MDK, KTM, Muscle Milk, Shift, Kicker, Foremost Insurance, Ogio, Leatt, etnies, Bell helmets, Gaerne boots, Wheel Pros and VRM.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Michael Willard won three of the four main events in Des Moines...
Yeah, I was just checking that out. That’s good for Willard. He’s a good buddy of mine. Maybe in a few years he’ll be racing in Bercy!
For more on Justin Brayton, check out www.justinbrayton.com.