By CHRIS JOHNSON
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Justin Brayton turns 34 years old on Wednesday, but the celebration started a little early.
Brayton, a Fort Dodge native, turned pro in 2002. He had never won a AMA Supercross race, though.
“This is a great early birthday present,” Brayton said after his breakthrough victory at Daytona on Saturday night.
“I went through so many emotions after the race,'” Brayton said in an interview with The Messenger. “A lot of hard work from so many people over the years. So many ups and downs. To finally win the most prestigious race of the year, at Daytona, was just amazing.
“It really is still sinking in. I’m in the record books forever.”
After the race, in an interview, Brayton was asked about the emotions of winning in such dramatic fashion.
“How was my weekend?” Brayton smiled. “It was the best of my life.”
With the victory, Brayton became the oldest driver to win a Supercross main, topping the previous mark of 33 years and one month.
“I actually feel pretty good,” Brayton said. “Physically I might not be where I was at 25, but mentally, I’m tenfold better than I was at 25.
“I have a family with two kids at home, and it’s a good balance to go home and see my kids. I take my daughter to swim lessons and detach myself from the grind. But when it’s time to come throw down — I can do that, too. Seriously, I feel better than ever.”
The former Dodger rode his Honda CRF 450 to the upset in the 450SX class final at Daytona International Speedway. He held off two-time defending Daytona champion Eli Tomac (Kawasaki) by 4.45 seconds.
“My family has sacrificed so much over the years for me, and to finally make this happen — it feels incredible for everyone.”
Brayton remembers the turning point in his mindset and thought process 16 years ago.
“When I was a senior (at Fort Dodge Senior High) in 2002, I went to Des Moines for an Arenacross event,” Brayton said. “I thought maybe I would qualify for the night program. I won my heat race, was the fastest in practice and almost won the Main Event.
“And from that day — it was a life-changer. One hunderd percent, I started to believe I would be OK doing this.”
Brayton has been riding Supercross since 2006, and in his 131st try on Saturday night, he captured the checkered flag in a 450 main race.
After the victory, social media was buzzing with the news.
“Having so many people congratulate me over social media was awesome,'” Brayton said. “From friends to family, to some of my heroes and people I look up to.”
This wasn’t just a victory for Brayton. It was one for his friends, family and hometown.
“There have been so many people from Fort Dodge that have supported me over the years,” Brayton said. “I really want to say thank you to them. It’s a great community, and I’m so proud to call it home.
“We won the biggest race there is to win in Supercross. It’s a dream come true.”