Monday Conversation II: James Stewart

Monster Energy Kawasaki’s James Stewart couldn’t really look a whole lot better, considering that the Hangtown National was only his second race back from a knee injury that took him out of the Supercross Championship before round three. At Hangtown, he again swept both motos, and he looked smooth and calculated both times, leading every lap he raced. But don’t try and say it’s easy...

Racer X: So, James, think about the rest of us for a moment. Guys like me have to try and make it interesting to read, every week, how you won going away, again...
James Stewart: When Ricky [Carmichael] was going 24-0, I didn’t hear no complaints then! I’m just having fun, and I feel like the fans are really appreciating me back. Those guys are going to step up, and I know it. They stepped up today, and I think it’s going to be tough. I just have to keep preparing like I have been, and we’ll see where we’re at when the weekend comes.

With Ricky Carmichael’s win streaks, it seemed like by a few rounds into the series, he had the race won before the gate dropped...
Yeah, and I don’t really care about that. I know those guys are going to race me every week and try. It doesn’t even enter my mind about going 24-0 or anything like that. I was just lucky to win this weekend, as far as I’m concerned.

At 23-0 it might enter your mind though, right?
No, not really. You just never know what can happen, and that’s way, way, way too far down the road. I’m stoked on the first two weeks, and I can’t ask for anything better.

I know a lot of racers wanted the schedule to be retooled so that you guys would race a lot of races in a row, but it looks like you guys are going to be looking at maybe three or four days a week at home between races right now...
Well, at least they’re at home. I feel like we get home, and we do our work, and then we leave. I like that. I like the supercross schedule because you just keep working and then you get it done, instead of working, and then maybe having a weekend off, and then having to start it back up. Just knock it all out. That means we have more of a break during the off-season, and we can go from there.

With your teammate finishing second to you this week, it must say a lot about your machinery – and what is he, 11 years older than you?

[Laughs] Timmy rode good. He rode good here last year. This is the one where he almost took me out last year. I tell him every week that I’m going to take him out whenever I get a chance, or whenever I feel like it...

Well, if you want to do that, you’ve got to stop getting holeshots and running away with the races out front.

No, I’m going to get him one time – maybe I’ll just do it in practice, I don’t know. [Laughs] But I’m going to get him back. He knows. It’s like a joke going around, but I think he might think I’m joking... I’m serious.

No you’re not...

Yeah, I am... Honestly, this weekend, I felt like we struggled a little bit, and I felt like we could make some improvements – and we did – and with every weekend, we start out good. When I first got on it, it was awesome, and then the more I ride, the more we stiffen it up, or soften it up, or whatever. I’m also stoked to get out of here. I’ve always struggled at this track for some reason, so I’m stoked to get out of here, and I’m really happy to go to Texas.

I know that in the past, before your big-bike days, Unadilla was always good for you. This year, though, I hear they’re adding a bunch of sand. Is that going to ruin it for you?

I don’t even want to think about that track right now. That’s too far down the road. We’ll handle that when we get there. But so far, the season’s going unbelievable. I honestly didn’t picture it going this way. I felt like I rode a little bit better than I did last weekend, and I hope that next weekend I can ride just as good, but it’s going to be tough.

Is there always something you can improve upon? Like, do you always leave thinking about how to make things better? Or is there a perfect weekend sometimes?
Well, a perfect weekend is to get out of here safe. That’s the way I look at it. Going 1-1 and winning by a decent margin, that’s a good weekend. You can always improve in areas, but also, you can’t be too hard on yourself. I can only do as much as I can do. This weekend, I didn’t feel like it was a perfect weekend, but I had a good time at everything. It was a perfect weekend just as far as being happy and being here, so I’m sure we can go back and watch the tapes and improve on something, but overall it was decent.

It used to be, back in your 125 days, that you didn’t just want to win, but you wanted to decimate the field and win by like two minutes or something. Now, we can watch your laptimes drop after you build up a lead. Is that something that came with maturity? Is it a conscious decision that you made, to just try and win by as much as you have to win it by?

Yeah, plus my dad’s on the sidelines telling me to slow down half the time anyway. [Laughs] But I don’t get more points if I win by a minute than I do if I win by half a second. I don’t really care about that anymore. I just really like to take in the last few laps and enjoy them. I embrace them and have fun. To be honest with you, I felt like the track today was really dangerous, and then I got out front and did my laps and just tried to get through it.

But they did pull out that jump over by the first turn after a couple guys wadded up on it, thanks (at least in part) to a journalist named “me” talking it over with them...
Yeah, that thing was dangerous. I’m glad somebody stepped up – thanks, Steve. I’m glad you stepped up and told them. That thing caught [Ben] Townley yesterday, and luckily they fixed it before I even got a chance to hit it [speaking of the pothole that followed the jump on Saturday, before the jump was removed for Sunday]. I’m stoked that people stepped up. But that’s the thing: sometimes, the promoters just get a little carried away. I mean, tracks have been pretty good – especially Red Bud and Budds Creek for the Motocross of Nations. You always want to improve on areas, but sometimes they start changing this and that and it looks cool, but it’s dangerous, you know? That showed this weekend. I felt like this was a dangerous track. I felt like they could’ve done more work, disked it deeper, and stuff like that, but maybe they don’t know that until we race on it, and by the time we race on it, it’s too late. The AMA and all those guys can’t just start changing the track. I hope this is a lesson for those guys for next year, so hopefully it’ll get better.

Are you going to get mad at me if you win again next weekend and I go interview second or third place or someone like that instead? I’m going to run out of questions for you...
If that happens, we’ll cross that bridge then... I was really bummed in the Press Conference at that guy [Steve Bauer, who asked about James not having any competition in the press conference], because basically what he was saying was that it’s easy without Ricky [Carmichael] and Chad [Reed], and it wasn’t even just him – I heard it from other people. I just feel like it’s an injustice to the sport. When people watch this sport, they need to believe that Timmy Ferry and Davi Millsaps are the guys, whether I race or Ricky races or Chad races, or not. When we’re not here, they need to embrace that, and for somebody to slander them and say they’re not good, or say that Ivan Tedesco isn’t competition, it’s disrespectful to me and to them. On top of that, it’s disrespectful to the sport. If Jeff Emig or Ralph Sheheen said that on TV, that James Stewart doesn’t have any competition, people are going to flip the channel. If they believe these guys are the best in the world – and they are – then they’ll keep tuned in, because there’s something to watch. I really took that to heart, and when you’re sitting on the couch, you need to understand that, man, it’s fun, and it takes a lot of hard work to get out there and compete. To say it’s easy, it’s a slap in my face and the other riders too.

And you’re right that it is disrespectful to you, too. Back when Ricky Carmichael was winning everything, I heard people saying that he was only winning everything because he had no competition. That’s essentially saying that what he accomplished wasn’t worth anything.

Yeah, for sure. If you’re going to bring me down, then you have to bring down RC back when he won everything, because he was racing against a lot of the same guys, and that’s disrespectful. To even qualify... Do you know how many people would love to even qualify for a National? So these guys must be good. Ricky was the man, and he made his run, and he had good competition. The same is true now. There are a lot of guys coming up – with Ben [Townley] and all those guys – and they’re really good. People don’t understand that. It’s not a cakewalk. I have my work cut out for me. I’ve just been lucky enough right now to get out front and do my thing. But it’s not a cakewalk at all.