Justin Brayton went for a mountain bike ride Thursday near the picturesque Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City. That evening, he picked up his wife and two young children, who had flown in from the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.
They headed to a house Brayton is renting for nearly a month in Park City, the gorgeous ski resort town that also is home to the Sundance film festival and a celebrity hot spot.
It’s like a family holiday – but with one twist for the Supercross veteran who rides for Team Honda HRC in the 450 class.
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“We’ll treat it like a mini-vacation,” Brayton told NBCSports.com in a Thursday interview. “But obviously Sundays and Wednesdays, we’ll go do a lot of racing.”
That will begin Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series will begin a stretch of seven events in 22 days (four Sundays and three Wednesdays) to conclude the 2020 season, which had been postponed since early March because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Brayton, 36, will be making the 35-minute commute from his rental house to the races at Rice-Eccles Stadium alone, as his family won’t be allowed at events that will be run with empty grandstands and minimal personnel. COVID-19 testing will be required for all of the roughly 900 people (including riders, team members, officials and venue workers) who will be on the stadium’s perimeter.
A series that races around the country virtually every Saturday night for four consecutive months now will stay in one location – 4,000 feet above sea level — every three to four days. It’ll be a stark change from the normal routines of Supercross.
Brayton likes variety, though. He races for long stretches annually in Australia and Europe, becoming adept at juggling the logistics on the fly that could prove a useful skill in Salt Lake City over the next month.
“I actually really like it because so many of us racers are creatures of habit,” he said of the schedule. “We fly out of the same airport every week. We fly at the same times every week. We do the same training programs. We’re almost like robots.
“I feel like this is an advantage to me because I’m not really a creature of habit. Just because of all the travel, I have so many wrenches thrown at me, I’ve learned to adapt from all of them. So I think it’s going to be fun.
“Nothing’s going to be perfect, but when the gate drops, it all feels the same whether it’s Sunday or Wednesday.”
One thing will be majorly different, though – the track layouts. Supercross officials had promised the layouts would vary despite all the events being held at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and Brayton said riders have been sent maps that confirm the diversity.
“All seven of them are very, very different,” he said. “So they’ll be completely different tracks, which I think is great. Because if one guy really adapts to the first track, and then we race that (layout) seven times, that’s not quite fair.
“It’s nice to mix it up and one track you might gel with, and three days later you might not gel with that track, but that’s part of our sport. The neat part compared to almost any other sport is that it’s ever changing. Even if you like the track, the dirt from every lap is changing, the corners, the whoops, the jumps are changing as the day goes on. That’s a unique part of our sport and something you just have to adapt to.”
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Brayton is expecting that many riders might have trouble adapting while trying to shake off the rust in Sunday’s race (which will be televised from 3-4 p.m. on NBCSN and 4-6 p.m. on NBC).
“Anaheim is always our first race, and crazy stuff always happens,” he said. “There’s always a surprise winner, and I believe it’s just because Round 1, everyone is a little bit nervous. You’re on edge. You haven’t raced in several months, you make uncharacteristic mistakes.
“I believe this is kind of our Round 1. And the hard part is we don’t have the six days in between that we can go home and test different stuff on our motorcycle or get our confidence back. After the first race, you literally have two days to stew over it or celebrate or whatever and then right back on the track again. I think it’s super important to start strong. The most important race might be the first one just to get the ball rolling. I think you’ll see a lot of people pressing the issue at Round 1 and definitely making some mistakes.
Two. More. Days. 🔥
— Supercross LIVE! (@SupercrossLIVE) May 30, 2020
“It’s going to be interesting but will be fun to be part of and fun for the fans to watch for sure.”
And it likely will be fun regardless for Brayton, who has been training the past few weeks in North Carolina and California. The three-month layoff allowed him to heal from a hand injury he suffered in the March 7 race at Daytona International Speedway that probably would have sidelined him for four races.
Now he’s healthy and happy to be spending a month in Utah with family – while also trying to help teammate Ken Roczen (who trails leader Eli Tomac by three points) win a championship.
“We’ll obviously take it very seriously, but also at the same time, enjoy it as well,” Brayton said. “We’re going to be talking about these times for years and years to come. Really embrace the situation but also get after it as well.”