Monday Conversation I: James Stewart

A four-month recovery, that should’ve been a six-month recovery, seems to be working just fine for Monster Energy Kawasaki’s James Stewart. A knee injury, and subsequent surgery, dropped Stewart from the Supercross Championship after two races, but he’s back, and any questions about his health were answered emphatically as he went on a tear at Glen Helen, winning both motos running away. It seems inevitable that we will be seeing a lot of performances like this one in the upcoming races.

Racer X: When I saw you this weekend for the first time, the first thing that entered my mind was how incredibly trim you look. You seriously look like you’re in great shape. Obviously, it seems this has something to do with your trainer Aldon Baker. How has that been working for you?
James Stewart: It’s been working really great, you know? We’ve been putting a lot of effort into it, and I know I’m in shape. I knew that coming into the supercross season, and even adding a few more months to it and building that base, but the biggest thing for both of us was that we wanted to see where we were. We haven’t raced in a while, and we didn’t know about race conditioning, but this is definitely the best I’ve ever felt. Outdoors, both motos, it was just unbelievable. I was able to pick it up whenever I needed to, and to come off the track without a drop of sweat on me was a really good feeling. I just know all of the hard work we’re putting into it is working out.

It’s not so good for everybody else, though...
No, I mean, these guys are going to step up. I feel like, for riding for three weeks, I feel pretty good – I feel really good. I didn’t expect this [to win], but I knew I was in shape, and that was the only thing I felt like that saved me with having all that time off – being in shape when I came back. That helped.

I was standing with David Bailey and Jason Weigandt yesterday [Saturday] during practice, and we saw you get sort of cross-rutted on the jump before the finish line, jump across the track, but in the air, just relax and pull a tearoff, and we all just stared at each other. It’s amazing to see how comfortable you look with such little time on the bike.
I had a few scary moments out there, just being all over the place, but it was fun. Those things don’t bother me, really. It’s not like I’m thinking, “You’ve got to miss the bump and save energy,” so it was fun. I was really looking forward to the roughest part of the track, which was the sand section, and I was having so much fun through that thing, it was awesome.

Yeah, you were jumping into that thing for a while, then near the end of the second moto, you stopped doing that and then started jumping through other parts...

It was fun, and one time I swapped pretty tough over there. I was going over and trying to blow every corner out like it was back at my house – where after my moto I try and go clean every corner out. I was just having some fun.

What does that do for your confidence to know you have the strength and endurance to kind of do what you want out there?
It helps confidence, but to be honest, I only really care about me. Mikey’s been doing a good job with the pitboard, and I just want to get better. I know these guys are going to step up, because it’s just the first race, and I was just happy to come out swinging off the gate like this. I’ve just got to keep improving. As long as I can do that, I’ve been training my butt off, and I know I’ve been doing everything I could possibly do, so I told myself that whatever happens, happens. I know I’ve done everything I could. We’ll just keep going throughout the year and see where we’re at. But it’s cool to know that it’s 35 minutes both motos, and we can do the work.

In 2004, when Ricky Carmichael took the time off with his knee, when he came back he made the comment that the time off did him a lot of good mentally to help refocus him, and to even help him to realize how much he loved racing. He’d been in it so long that he had kind of lost track of how much he loved it. Did you run into a similar thing with your time off?
Yeah, for sure. I think, for me, I’ve been riding since I was four years old – and the same for Ricky. We’ve been racing our whole lives, so to have time off and to have to be off – not like taking a week off, but having to be off completely – it was really motivating for me to get back just to refresh. Like I told somebody earlier, it feels like 2002 to me – like I just got into the pro ranks. I’m excited to be back, and the fans are awesome, and you guys [the press] are awesome, and it really makes me feel good to see that people appreciate me being back here. I’m definitely going to embrace that toward the future.

So do you feel like it was almost a needed attitude adjustment?

No, I don’t think it was an attitude adjustment, because I always tried to be calm and just say whatever was on my mind, but I think it was just about focusing on different things – coming to the races and really enjoying being here. Everyone’s gone through it. It almost becomes routine coming back every weekend to the races, but then it’s gone. Now, you’re back and really enjoying it. It’s just special to me, and I felt that today, and I’m going to feel it from here on out. I really appreciated everyone that was supportive, and especially the fans, for sure.

It’s inevitable that people are going to start talking about you going 24-0 like Ricky Carmichael did, because you were so dominant today...
I don’t look at it like that. I just feel blessed to be here and I’m having fun. If I can win the championship and win some more races, that would be just as good. I don’t really look at that other stuff. If you start looking ahead, things happen, and I feel like I just need to have fun and ride like I did today, and I’ll be fine. If that [24-0] happens, which I don’t believe it will, we’ll tackle that when we get there.

With all else staying the same, do we get to count on you for the Motocross of Nations team this year?
Yeah, yeah... That [Kevin] Strijbos kid, I still want more of him. [Laughs] I like him. I want to get more.

So, we’ll be taking you over to England again...
If that’s where I’ve got to go... I want more of him. [Laughs] We’ve still got a long-standing battle since we were on 80s. He beat me fair and square. I got him last time, but that wasn’t good enough. I want more [laughs].

Are there any tracks you’re especially looking forward to coming up, or any that you’re really not looking forward to?

Not anymore. I’m pretty much looking forward to all of them. I’m looking forward to Sacramento... The one I always kind of question is Mt. Morris. I feel like if I can get through that one, it’ll be a good season. And then, obviously, Unadilla – that’s probably not my favorite one...

You’ve just got to get through practice there...
Yeah, I know, but it’s a whole new year for me. It’s different from the past, and I know it, and I’m really not too concerned about that stuff. We’ll see where we’re at when the time comes, but I’m looking forward to being in front of everybody, to be honest with you.