Justin Brayton embraces role as Supercross elder statesman

Brayton Supercross elder statesman
Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept Honda

Every sport needs an elder statesman and although once reluctant to claim the honor, Justin Brayton has decided to embrace that role in the Monster Energy Supercross Series in what may be his final season.

Over the past few years, the makeup of the Supercross field has changed. Still dominated by riders in their teens and early 20s, the longevity of riders has increased. In 2022, 20 riders in their 30s will climb aboard their motorcycles to challenge the Young Guns.

Justin Brayton will turn 38 during the 2022 season and looks to extend his record as the oldest winner in Supercross – a goal he still believes is achievable. (Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept Honda)

It’s a challenge Brayton knows all too well. The overall number of older riders has increased, but Brayton has more experience in this arena than many of his colleagues.

Brayton has not always been the flashiest rider during his American Supercross career. A fourth-place finish in 2012 marks the high point of his championship standings, but that season he was tied with third-place Ryan Dungey and in sight of second-place.

He finished fifth in points twice, most recently in 2018, and has been a rider the field knows must be taken seriously every time when he qualifies for the Main.

So, what is the story that Brayton wants told after two decades of racing?

“(It involves) being the oldest rider out there, being the oldest ever win a Supercross race in Daytona a couple years ago,” Brayton told NBC Sports. “Still being able to compete at the highest level at 37, I’ll turn 38 in March, I would say that’s the biggest thing for my goal.

“Just to inspire people at home that think really anything is possible despite your age. In other sports, obviously football right now with Tom Brady, every sport can have their elder statesman. I think it’s cool to have a guy almost 40 years old still being able to potentially win a race or really compete at the front and at the highest level. I think that storyline is great.

“A few years ago I was like, I don’t want to be the old guy, where right now I love it. I’m proud of myself that I’m still here; I’m still competing.”

Brayton can still get the job done. On March 10, 2018, four days prior to his 34th birthday, he became the oldest rider to win a Supercross race. Brayton stood on the top step of the podium and looked down at 2020 SX champion Eli Tomac and 2021’s titlist Cooper Webb.

Of all the tracks Supercross races, Daytona’s configurations are typically the hardest on a rider’s body.

And while the top-10s have been less frequent in recent seasons, one of the highlights of his recent career was a podium in 2021.

Justin Brayton’s move to Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept gives him a chance to race in 2022 with a team that aligns with his goals. (Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcept Honda)

“If I was just running around 15th-place, there’s no storyline right? It’s like, ‘Ah, he’s old – he’s kind of washed up,’ but I really feel like I can still win a race,” Brayton said. “I just got on podium this past year at 36 years old, so I think it’s really achievable to win or for sure be on the podium again and race up the front of the field.”

No racer ever hits the track without thinking he can win. But as the miles accumulate and accidents are stitched across their bodies like an insane treasure map guiding them through the land of experience, focus shifts. There are several keys to success and racing smart is one of the ways to climb onto those podiums.

Brayton continues to be competitive because of his mindset.

With nothing left to prove to anyone other than himself, 2022 will be about riding hard, looking to extend his oldest-wining-rider record and enjoying the process. He feels lucky that the Smartop Bullfrog Spas Motoconcepts Honda team shares his goals.

It is one thing to think of age as just another number, but to go out and beat riders who were not born when one debuted in the sport is a notable feat.

Motorcycle racing is about balance. Riders need to balance on the bike and athletes need balance in their lives. Racing Supercross only since 2017 has allowed him to achieve that.

“In every other sport it’s proven that, the mid 30s is your peak if there is performance,” Brayton said. “I feel like the biggest thing for our sport is the mental burnout, so I’ve really paid a lot of attention to that and if I’m mentally ready to go and mentally ready to train properly for the things that it takes to compete at a high level here, I think that’s all that has mattered in the past several years.

“It’s not rocket science. The biggest thing is just mental rest – not being so stressed out and so bloated with family, kids, training, travel and all of that. And then do that for 12 months out of the year and then do that for 10 plus years. I think it’s almost impossible.

“So right now, the stress of racing is enough. To be able to have that for 17 races is a lot easier than 12 months.

“I’ve been able to manage my career by having time off – just letting my mind rest – not having to be at the gym, not having to do this obligation, not having to stress about the upcoming weekend for the race. That just wears on you, and being able to get three or four months of rest mentally and physically (is important). Now my mind is ready to go into fight mode and I’m able to sustain that until the end of May with Supercross.”

Most importantly, wins and podiums are still being accumulated – not only in his mind, but on the box scores as well. Only a few weeks before NBC Sports caught up with him at a media event in Anaheim, California, Brayton finished third in the Supercross de Paris. Before he left for France, the only request from his children was to bring home a trophy. It was a proud moment when he gave it to them.

Brayton won the 2018 and 2019 Australian Supercross championships, so there is plenty of rationale for his confidence entering 2022.

Now, there is that one last goal, which is to pad his stat of being the oldest winner in Supercross.

“I think this is this will probably be my last year,” Brayton said. “I think as I sit here today, I’ve got one more full season in me as a high-level guy. I’ve had a lot of people ask why would you be done if you’re still racing at this level. My come back to that is most things end because they go bad.

“I don’t want them to go bad.”

Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

Larson High Limit Eagle
High Limit Racing - Twitter

It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway