STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY MATT BERNARD
Justin Brayton has claimed his fourth Australian Supercross Championship and signed a contract with Factory HRC Honda in the USA – at 35 years of age. Matt Bernard sat down with the likeable family man to learn why he loves racing and continues to make the trip to Australia.
Let’s start this with the simplest question; why do you keep coming back to Australia?
I think the biggest reason I keep coming back to Australia, well there’s several reasons, but the biggest one is how much fun my family and I have. We came over here at the end of 2016. For somewhat of a holiday but also for Supercross preparation. At the end of 2016 motocross season in America I had made the decision that either, I was going to be done with racing completely, or I was going to do a Supercross only schedule. We have always talked about doing some sort of a global Supercross schedule. There’s a lot of races around the world that people don’t know about or maybe don’t think is doable. So that’s really what I wanted to do, and just by coincidence, Yarrive Konsky, owner of the Penrite Honda team, had sent me a message on Instagram and it just kind of started snowballing. I said, yeah, let’s do this.
We are not thinking, “Oh man, I can’t wait to get home and see this or see that or eat this.” We are really, happy in Australia.
I’ve had a relationship with Honda in America for several years and this really was almost too good to be true. It started out so good that I wanted to keep coming back. And now I don’t see me stopping anytime soon. We have made some great friends over here. It’s truly like a second home. The family love it – it’s an amazing country. We stay right on the beach on the Sunshine Coast and we look forward to this trip every year. A lot of people ask us, “Are you excited to go home at this time of year”, every year I get asked, and Australia is really the only place in the world that we’ve been that we’re really content with being here. We are not thinking, “Oh man, I can’t wait to get home and see this or see that or eat this.” We are really, happy in Australia.
Being a father and a husband, you know your family’s happiness is all-important. It could even shorten your career if they’re not? Do you think racing in Australia has helped extend your career in racing?
Oh, for sure, yeah. And that’s the biggest reason why I came over here in the first place. One of my things with the deal with Yarrive was, either we come as a family, it’s kind of a family deal, or I don’t come at all. There’s no way I can leave them for that long and I wouldn’t be happy doing it. I don’t really feel right leaving them at home and going away racing. There’s times when I have to, and there’s times when they can’t travel with me, but not for that extended period of time. This year has been our shortest trip, normally it’s three months of the year. And that’s what it was our first couple years. So, there’s no way I could leave for three months and just say, ‘Okay, guys, I’m out of here. I’m going to race Supercross.’ But if we could make it something that was a family deal and Yarrive has really helped with that. He has kind of embraced that and has become a part of our family and we have his. It’s been a unique situation. My daughter has spent a whole year of her life in Australia. She has spent all her Halloweens here. Thanksgiving. So yeah, it’s pretty neat that they’ve spent that much time over here and how many friends we’ve made.
Ford Dale, he obviously was a motocross champion over here, we became really good friends with him and his family. And my daughter looking forward to seeing his two boys every year. She just can’t wait to see them. So, it’s cool to see them playing and enjoying life.
My daughter has spent a whole year of her life in Australia. She has spent all her Halloweens here. Thanksgiving. So yeah, it’s pretty neat that they’ve spent that much time over here and how many friends we’ve made.
You speak very highly of team boss Yarrive Konsky. I would say he is possibly the most passionate person I have met in the sport – would that be a fair assumption?
Yep, absolutely. He’s the most passionate guy I have met as well. There are things he’s just so passionate about that. I love it. I think it’s so awesome that he is that passionate about it. Then other things where I think I’ve held him back-off a tonne. We talked about the other day, when I came down here and raced for the first time and we would win the main event, he’s so happy and so proud. But it’s like, like you can’t get too high and too low. He would be really extremely high and maybe extremely low. So, I feel like I’ve helped him.
I was like that too, honestly, back in the day, but the older I’ve gotten, the more I’m like, ‘OK, we won this one. But smile. Let’s be happy, let’s high five, but not get too high because we’re going to be back at the test track in 24 hours. Trying to win the next one.’ So yeah, it’s been really cool to get to know him one as a team owner and now as a friend. We need more guys like him in the sport honestly, like look over there, we are sitting here looking at four motorcycles that he’s prepared. Three of us are from America and Metty being from Australia. That shows the commitment he has to the sport, sometimes spending his own money out of his pocket to get people here. And I love it because that’s how I feel about the sport as well. That’s how passionate I am about it, so it’s been a huge, huge blessing in my life to be over here and also to meet Yarrive.
Luke Clout is now in the USA and Yarrive mentioned that you’ve been integral in helping with that behind the scenes. Whats your motivation in helping Luke and is that something you try to do with other young riders?
No, I just feel like he’s made the right steps to be a better person and a better rider. And I feel like Luke truly has a future in America if he goes about it the right way. He’s got the speed. He’s got the talent. I think there’s just been a few missing pieces in the past. I’ve just always been taught, and guys have taught me when I was coming up, for instance, Buddy Antunez, he helped me for free for many years. He just said, just do it to someone else, give back to another younger rider.
Quite honestly, I’m more passionate about helping people at this stage of my career. There are several guys that I help in America that I talked to on a weekly basis or every couple of weeks. It would probably surprise you with who I have talked to, and who I have helped and the things I’ve known about them personally. But I love that, I love that side of it. And Luke’s no different. I would love the story of Luke Clout coming to America, Yarrive giving him a chance, and once again, spending his own money to give Luke that opportunity and for it to succeed. I’ve had my van driven across the country for Luke, I’ve helped put bits and pieces of the puzzle together with sponsors, which I enjoy doing as well. I just think he deserves a shot at it. The rest is kind of up to him. Whether he takes full advantage of it or not, I feel like he will. But that’s yet to kind of be seen and but yeah, just biggest thing is just helping someone that I believe deserves the help.
As far as your own career goes, you’ve signed a deal with HRC. I almost feel like it’s Brayton 2.0.
Definitely, I’ve had a few good years now, being back on Honda’s for three years. For some reason I’ve just always been a Honda guy and that’s not cliché. That’s not me making that up. That’s just facts and if you look at the results. I grew up a Honda guy, had local help from a local dealer in Iowa growing up, I just I love the bike. I love the way it feels. I could sit on a on a production bike on the showroom floor of a dealership and it’s just comfortable to me. I had some years on different brands where we’ve done okay, but there was always something missing. So, when I got back on Honda’s a lot of the same guys were there as when I was on the factory team in 2012. Eric Kehoh, the team manager was, just a lot of guys still there that I have personal relationships with. So when I was able to do this supercross only thing and still come over here it really just made it work together with them and help bridge the gap between America and Australia was I think Yarrive is really thankful for. It’s been really nice to be back on Honda. And like I said, I don’t have to think about it that much, I just get on the motorcycle, and I love it. I just truly, really enjoy riding that bike. And like I said, that’s not paying for sharing, let’s just look at the results of the last few years. I’ve had some of my best years of my career. And I’m, you know, over 30.
Do you feel that if you weren’t up to it, the body wasn’t up to racing the AMA, That an option would be to race here in Australia and continue to make a living?
Yeah. For sure. But, you know, money to me now, it isn’t the driving factor at all. Not saying I have tonnes of millions of dollars in the bank, but I’m okay. And for me, from here on out, it’s I want to do how I want to, you know. It’s not just the typical grind, and I think people can see that from the schedule that I’ve kind of created. Eventually I don’t know if it’s 2020, I don’t know if it’s 2021, but sooner or later it will be my last season in America. Then after, sure I would love to come to Australia for another year or two and just continue to race because no matter how successful I am, or how much money is in the bank. All that aside, I love riding, I truly love it. I’ve been asked before what’s your perfect day or what if you could do anything you wanted to do? Honestly, I would say wake up and go ride my motorcycle and that’s being totally honest. I can sit here at 35 years old, I’ll be 36 in four months and I can still genuinely say that. I think the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve unlocked my abilities, because anxiety isn’t there the pressures not there on myself, when you’re in that revolving door of having to get rides, having to make a certain amount of money. All that’s gone now. I’ve just signed a factory Honda deal, age 35. That’s unheard of, and Supercross only! That’s, super unheard of. To be doing the schedule I’m doing it’s just…it’s really, really cool. I couldn’t script it any better for me. I enjoy Supercross a lot. If I was still having to race motocross and race a full 12 months a year and not get that break that I get, that three four month break in the summer to spend time with my family. I don’t think I’d be doing it anymore. So, I am definitely thankful for Honda and Yarrive. I think racing in Australia is definitely on the cards for maybe even another three or four years…