June 6, 2008 1:32pm
At the Hangtown post-race press conference inside the brand-new AMA Toyota Motocross media tent, Cycle News contributor Steve Bauer asked James Stewart a question that sparked a response from the race winner that ended with him receiving a round of applause. Afterward, Stewart brought it up again in the Monday Conversation that Racer X editor-at-large Steve Cox conducted, which led to a debate this weekend between the two Steves - Bauer and Cox -  about what exactly the question implied and what caused Stewart to open up about how he felt about the implication by anyone that he doesn’t have any competition out there.

First, here’s that part of the Racer X Monday Conversation:

James Stewart
photo: Simon Cudby
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.

So to clarify it all and get the issue of who asked what and why settled so the two Steves can get on with the business of covering the races, here is their Point/Counterpoint on the whole topic.

COX: In the Monday Conversation I did with James, he brought up something that was obviously bothering him. In the press conference, Steve Bauer, who was working as a freelancer for Cycle News and writing the Lites story from Hangtown, implied that James didn’t have any competition, and James went on a rant about how bad it is to say that. My explanation in the Monday Conversation, since the press conference was not aired over the internet or anything like that and most wouldn’t know what he was referring to, went like this (Stewart talking, my editorial aside in brackets): “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.”

BAUER: I asked James a legitimate question at the press conference and instead of responding to my question, he misinterpreted my meaning and kind of went on a rant about how the media doesn't give the other riders the respect they deserve, that "us guys" don't know how hard it is to be out there and that it's "no cakewalk" for him. My question to Stewart was: "With RC now retired and Chad sitting out, you've gapped the field four motos in a row; From where do you draw your motivation?"  Is it to win the big bike outdoor title? Is it to beat RC's records? More money? Cars? Just to win? I mean, I certainly thought it might be interesting to know what motivates the fastest rider on the planet.

COX: This apparently really bothered Steve, because he has sent me instant messages and called me and told me on the phone explaining that he “never said ‘no competition’” and that I misquoted him (actually, I didn’t quote him at all, but rather paraphrased) and that I should “listen to the audio from the press conference” and then admit I was wrong. So, I did listen to it. Now, in order to not be accused of “misquoting” again, or of inaccurately paraphrasing, here is the exact quote, word for word, from Bauer, as he asked James Stewart the question: “Hey, James, with Ricky Carmichael now retired, and Chad sitting out, umm, where do you find the motivation? I mean, if you keep gapping the, the rest of the guys like this, isn’t it going to get harder and harder to stay out there?”

Now, sure, Bauer didn’t say the words “no competition” but what’s the difference? That’s exactly what he asked, with or without using the words “no competition”. It’s an argument in semantics, and since this is an ongoing subject on the message boards, I thought it prudent to provide everyone with the actual quote, word for word.

BAUER: When he responded as he did, I was at first taken aback, but then just figured he'd been waiting for a chance to vent about the media's perception of the ease with which he wins, so he chose that moment. No big deal, it was his bully pulpit and he used it. I did see some irony when he said, "I'd like to see any of you guys do this," saying we didn't appreciate how much work they put in, because nothing could be further from the truth, in my case. Thirty years ago, as a privateer I raced the last Hangtown National held at the old Plymouth track and worked my butt off to finish in the top twenty, and 29 years ago I raced the first Hangtown National at the current venue, this time with some factory and DG help, and did a little better. My point being that I do respect each and every rider out there, from Charles Castloo to Kevin Windham, I think they're all heroes. 

COX: James Stewart’s response was outstanding, in my opinion, and shows the maturity level he has reached: “See, that’s one thing you guys don’t understand. These guys are good. I’d like to see any one of you guys sitting out there race these guys. These guys are good, and for you guys to say there’s no competition, that’s just a letdown, even to myself. We put a lot of hard work into it, and these guys do the same thing. It’s no cakewalk out there. I don’t know where you guys are getting that from. I train really hard, and I bust my behind to get here, and Sundays are my easiest days, so for you guys to say there’s no competition, and that these guys are not on it, that’s a disrespect to all of us. Like I said, these guys try just as hard as I do, and that’s not fair.”

BAUER: I don't consider myself "media," but I was covering the Lites class for Cycle News at Hangtown, and I know most of the media members.  From all my conversations with any of them, they all share the same opinion of the riders that I have, and that is of the utmost respect.  We are all pretty much realists, though, and Stewart is cut from a different cloth, and that is a compliment. It's no disrespect to the rest of the field; facts are facts and the results speak for themselves. DC and Weege were saying the same thing in their pre-race web show, that James was four seconds a lap faster and presumed to win.  We are not the bad guys for reporting what we see, are we? But I understand what James was trying to say, so at the press conference I just let it roll off my back...though I felt he was kind of shooting the messenger, you know?  When I started getting calls on Monday telling me that Cox had thrown me under the bus, it did bother me. Not because of James' statement, although referring to me as "that guy" was kind of disrespectful, since he knows my name.  It bothered me that Cox misrepresented what I asked James at the press conference, saying that I had said that James had "no competition."  I never used those words, nor did I say anything about a "cakewalk," or anything else. Those words came from that guy (Steve Cox) and James, not me.

COX: And quickly, the mood went from deadly serious to completely funny, as while James was saying that, Racer X Canada’s Steve Matthes had raised his hand to ask for the microphone in order to ask the next question. As soon as Stewart was done talking, Rob Buydos says, “Steve Matthes” so as to indicate he has the next question, and immediately following that, the roar of applause and yelps came from the back of the press tent (in response, obviously, to Stewart’s defense of his competition), to which Matthes responded, “Thank you.” That was about the funniest thing that happened all day…. Man, I love the Nationals. Can we get some more drama, please?