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Monday Conversation I: James Stewart

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Monster Energy Kawasaki’s James Stewart is officially one of the two greatest motocross racers of all time. At Steel City, he completed the third-ever perfect season, grabbing 24 moto wins to round out the 12-round championship and finish with a perfect 600 points. Now, it’s off to England for the Motocross of Nations, before starting a new chapter in his racing career for 2009.

Racer X: So, tell the truth: Was there a bit of extra pressure coming into today? Was it different?
James Stewart: Yeah, for sure. I mean, for some reason, it really set in this weekend. I knew this was it. The first moto, I was able to get through it and I rode all right, but then the second moto, dude, I mean, I was just so nervous sitting on the gate. And then, in between, in the motor home, I was like, “Dude, this is it! This can be one of those talked-about seasons forever, or it could be just, ‘Man, what if?’” I didn’t want one of those, and I was able to get it done.

If it came down to the last moto and you lost, it would’ve been one of those talked-about seasons, anyway, just not in the way you wanted.
Yeah, I didn’t want to be that guy who let the pressure get to him. I rode as comfortably as I could. I felt like the track was really smooth today, and there were a lot of mistakes. I mean, we saw Villopoto DNF one moto and be in the back of the pack, and that was just because the track was real slippery and it was easy to over-ride it. I was able to still get the job done. It was close, but I was able to get it done.

When you got the two-to-go board, did you get more nervous?
I think it really set in when it was the two-lap board, and I saw “Dirty Dog” [Timmy Ferr] was coming up, and I was like, “Dude, I don’t want this right now! I want to enjoy it!” I didn’t really get to enjoy it until the end. What really shocked me was the damned halfway flag came, and I was like, “Dude, are you kidding me?” I felt like I must’ve missed it or something, but when it came, I was like, “Dude, we’ve got a long time left.” I had a few sketchy moments, and it’s just one of those seasons: I look back at that Southwick incident [where he barely missed a downed Shaun Skinner on the backside of a jump under the yellow flag] and so many of these incidents that should’ve been crashes and I should’ve been hurt, but they never happened.

I watched that whole thing at Southwick, and even watching it I couldn’t tell how you missed Skinner. It’s impossible to change direction in the air, but it almost seemed like you did, because you were able to land with one wheel off the track and miss the guy.
I mean, it was crazy. I remembered talking in an interview this week and really thinking about it, and even during that moto, I was just like, “Man, that’s a sign. That’s a sign of something special.” I don’t know how I missed that guy. I came over, and I was like, “This is it.” But then when I missed him, I was like, “Something might be going on here.” I was able to finish off the way I started the season, and it’s unbelievable.

Now that it’s over, has it even set in yet what you accomplished this year?
It makes me feel good. It’s set in a little bit. This set in more than the championship did, because even when the championship was over, I had to go race some more. It wasn’t like I could relax. I had a lot of pressure still on me. And this weekend, the last moto, it really got to me. I feel special because even Timmy [Ferry] told me that when Ricky [Carmichael] did it [got the perfect season], it wasn’t this dominant. The only person that has led laps this year besides me was Mike Alessi, and there was 13 of them. To me, leading over 300-and-something laps, to 13, that’s ridiculous.

It’s the question of the last couple of weeks, but are you going to be back next year to try and lead 300-and-something again?
I want to. You guys don’t understand. For me, there’s going to be some changes and stuff, and I’m excited about it. I would like to come back and do my deal, but we’ve just got to see what lies ahead and make the best of every situation. I feel good. I definitely want to come back to run the number-one plate and try and go 48 and 0.

Having withstood this kind of pressure, do you feel like your return to the Motocross of Nations in about a month is going to be easier for you this time than it was before?
I think last time, when I went over there, Ricky [Carmichael] was the guy, and he was supposed to be the guy who was going to race the MX1 class. Now, I feel like I’m the guy who’s there to lead the team and stuff, and my results have shown it. For me, the pressure’s off. I haven’t had this much pressure on me ever since I’ve been racing, and I think, for me, it was cool. I felt like I was able to get through it and not really let it get to me. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I was lying a little bit when I was saying I wasn’t thinking about it, but I was thinking about it for a little bit.

We all knew that! We’re not dumb!
I know, I know. It’s tough, because you guys would ask, and I didn’t want to say I was thinking about it and then lose. That looks bad. So it’s like, “No, I’m not thinking about it!” If I would’ve lost one, it would’ve been like, “I was never going for that, anyway!” [Laughs] But no, I was thinking about it. I’m glad you guys read me. You read me like a book. [Laughs]

Your outdoor racing career in the 450cc class was so bad for so long, what does it mean to you to turn it around this much, this fast? You went from hardly finishing races and seasons to winning every, single moto...
It means a lot. I think, even when I hurt my knee back in Florida [last December], it was like, “Dude, things can’t get any worse! This sucks!” Then, going into the outdoors, I never really thought it was going to be any different. Can’t get through supercross, can’t get through outdoors... But when I came back, it was a miracle to even be back, and like I always said, I just got straight off the couch and won Glen Helen, then won them all since then.

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