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Monday Conversation I: James Stewart

With one third of the 2008 AMA/Toyota National Motocross Championships in the books, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s James Stewart is still undefeated. With a perfect 200 points in his column, it may be hard to believe that his outlook is such that he just hopes to have fun on the weekend. Apparently, it’s really fun to win. It’s also hard to imagine that Stewart is only 22 years old. He has something to say about that as well. Read on:

Racer X: It sure does seem like everything’s going your way right now, doesn’t it? How are you doing this?
James Stewart: A lot of hard work. I ride a lot during the week and I train a lot during the week, and I’ve said it before, but the weekend’s the easiest day for me. Today, I thought these guys were going to be a little bit closer, because the track wasn’t that rough. The track was fun, though. I mean, it was like being out there in the first Sunday practice and you can ride all over. It was kind of smooth, and nobody rode yesterday, so everybody was still fresh. I wanted to stay up the first couple of laps, and that’s what I was able to do, and I was able to take the win, so it was a good day.

In years past, you took off Saturdays when you didn’t have to do them. Is that going to be coming along down the road here, where you will start taking Saturdays off?

I’m embracing this. It’s really fun. And like I said, I had the supercross season off, so every chance I get to ride, I really appreciate it, and I can tell the fans really appreciate me being here – especially with the Coombs family, and the NPG and the AMA; everybody’s really stepping up to make these tracks fun. When they’re fun like this, you want to come race, and I guarantee you can go to a lot of the guys and ask them about the track, and they’ll say it was good. It was a fun track, a safe track, and that makes it fun, so it makes it a lot easier to want to come on Saturday to ride these things.

I remember last year, here, on the podium, there were a lot of boos from the crowd. This year, it seemed a lot better for you. Did you notice that?

Yeah, I did. Last year, it was tough. I mean, I knew it. The biggest thing now is that I just try to show my appreciation, and I think last year was a different year, and I had Ricky [Carmichael] out here, and he was going out, so I knew they’d be happy about him. But when I got up there today, I was actually expecting a lot more boos. It was a lot different. Last year, I got it, and then I got it again at Southwick, and it was different. It was cool to come here and see the fans really appreciate it, and if they don’t know, that really meant a lot to me. That was really cool.

Do you think you’ve turned the corner with how you’re perceived by the fans now? You definitely do seem a lot different this year than you did last year, almost more like when you first got here, when you were 16 years old...
I think I’m just having fun. I’ve found confidence, and I’m just enjoying everything. It could be gone tomorrow, and I realize that. When I was off, I took a lot of time to... I mean, I was down, and I’m not going to lie about it, and I remember when it really hit me: I was in California, in Riverside, and I was getting ready to get back on the 91 freeway, and I saw this bum on the side of the freeway with a sign that said something like, “Need Money, God Bless”, and he was just a bum sitting on the on ramp. I saw him, and I was like, “You know what? My life ain’t bad. I’m not one of these guys.” I think people take it for granted, and I was one of them. Then I see stuff like what went on last week. It’s good to have a good time, but people don’t understand, man, we’re blessed. It’s awesome to be here. It’s awesome to have guys cheer for you. And think about it, we have to be in the one percent of the world that gets to travel every weekend and have fun and stuff like that. When I saw that bum, it really changed my perspective on everything. I know it sounds funny. I’ve seen bums before, but for some reason, he really hit my heart, and ever since then, I’ve been really appreciating things.

Isn’t it kind of hard when you’re 16 or 17 years old and all of a sudden you’re getting a ton of money and fame and attention like this? It doesn’t seem like you’d really be ready for that at that age...

Yeah, I mean, it is. That’s why you see some of the younger kids doing things... We don’t know. I still feel like I’m young. I’m 22.

Most professional athletes are just getting out of college at your age.
Yeah, it’s different. A lot of these guys never even went to high school. We never even went to high school to hang out with kids, so when we get here, it’s fun, but you don’t realize that there are kids looking up to you, even when you’re 16 years old. There’s somebody looking up to you.

There’s probably another 16-year-old looking up to you...

Yeah, thinking you’re awesome and stuff. It’s hard when everybody else around you gets caught up in it, too. When everybody else around you thinks it’s cool, that’s when young kids get in trouble. Even the stuff that happened last week, I don’t blame those guys for it, I blame the people that are around them for it, because they should be smarter and let these kids know, “Hey, you can’t do this. Do this on the off weekend or something else.” Sometimes, I feel bad, but people jump on people’s cases, and they’ve got to realize that we’re all kids here. Some of the people we talk to, we’re half their ages, so you can go back to when you were 16, and everybody did a lot of crazy things at 16, but nobody knew about it. Now, we’re at the motocross nationals, and there’s the internet, and people blame what happened last week on them. I blame it on the people that were around them.

You’ve won in Colorado before. What do you expect under the lights?

I expect it to be fun. When I come to these races, I don’t come here saying I’ve got to win. I really just enjoy myself, and I let it come to me. I was happy to get out of here in one piece – something that’s tough for me to do sometimes, especially here – and to win. I just really take it all and embrace it now, and my goals every week are to have fun and really appreciate it, and that’s why I love racing the outdoors.

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