Monday Conversation: James Stewart

The series wasn’t without excitement, controversy, emotion or competition, but it’s over now, and San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart is the champion. Stewart rode a smart race to secure the title, and won 11 races of the 17 run in 2009. We spoke to the champ after the main event in Las Vegas.

Racer X: First off, where were you on Friday for Press Day?
James Stewart: Well, Friday, honestly I got up and I got a phone call from Larry [Brooks, L&M team manager/co-owner] that said we weren’t going to the press conference. Obviously, I didn’t want to sit there and answer the same questions over and over about something I had nothing to do with [referring to Chisholmgate from Salt Lake City], so in a way it was good. I didn’t want to do it, and I don’t mind sitting here and taking the heat. It was a big weekend, and the last thing we wanted to have was all of that controversy going into it, or to have me and Chad [Reed] get into an argument up there about a bunch of nothing. It was worth it. It paid off in the end.

So, you could say it was a hallmark of a smart weekend, then, because you managed to, more or less, stay out of it with everybody.
Yeah, I mean, it was a lot of work. I didn’t want to get into any controversy, and if he was talking about that one incident [with Chisholm] that was nothing after all of the Anaheims and Daytonas... I mean, it was worth it. My team had been behind me 100 percent, and I’ve never been around a group of people that stuck together like Larry and my team. After Anaheim, and even yesterday and all of those deals, they stuck behind me, and it’s been so gratifying for me.

You had the lead, but then you made a mistake in the rhythm section and Ryan Villopoto got by. Did you not want to push to try and catch him again?
Ryan was riding good. He rode good in the heat race, too. I thought it was Chad in second, and when Ryan passed me, I was like, “This is actually really good,” because we were kind of pulling away from Chad, and I was like, “If I can push Ryan to get him away, and if Chad gets to messing with me, no matter what Chad does to me, I feel like I can still get up and finish fourth and have it [the championship].” He [Reed] did what he said he was going to do: He tried knocking me into the fence over there. But hey, I don’t care. I’ve been a man of pride my whole career, and especially this year, and if that’s the way he wants to play, that’s why I have it [the number-one jersey] on and he doesn’t.

When you were up there on the podium, you broke down and cried for a minute. It’s obvious that this title meant a lot to you, but how emotional was it for you, exactly?
It’s so emotional. There is so much hard work that went into it, and honestly I’m exhausted right now because it’s been the toughest year for me. Every race this year, I’ve had to win, and that’s hard mentally to have to do. I don’t think anybody’s ever been in a situation where they had to win every race. Even when Ricky [Carmichael] came back [from a first-round DNF] in 2002, [David] Vuillemin [Carmichael’s championship rival in 2002] missed got hurt and missed Daytona and Ricky got his points back. Chad has been on the podium 16 out of 17 races this year, so I had to win after Anaheim I, and then after Daytona. It’s been mentally hard with everything that’s been going on from A1 to Salt Lake. It’s just hard. It pays off to have a great team, a great trainer, and a great supporting cast. I’m so happy.

And the money doesn’t suck...
Dude, honestly, I do not care about the money.

Come on!
I don’t! I just told those guys, I got 50 grand [from the title] and I’m going to let it go on the blackjack table. I don’t care. At the end of the day, this championship is worth more than anything to me, especially with how I won it. I’ve won a bunch of championships, and when I won in ’07, I was so happy. And when I went undefeated [in the nationals] last year, I was really happy. But this one right here, it shows who I am inside. I don’t give up, and I believe I was the best the whole time. I might not have ridden the best tonight, but I did what I had to do, and I’m so happy. I just want to thank my team. They’ve been very supportive of me and of everything. I also want to thank all the fans who stuck behind me, and even the people who don’t like me, you guys got a good season, you got what you wanted, it went down to the last race and we finished with four points between us. I was able to squeak it out. I won’t even say, “squeak it out.” I won it.

They say that you learn about yourself and what you’re capable of in hard times. What did you learn about yourself this year?
I learned that I have a heart that can bring me back from a deficit. I have a heart that, when times are rough, like after Anaheim when I was walking back to the truck with my head down, and everyone was talking about how Reed is so good, and having him ride superb at Phoenix, and with the struggle I had at the beginning of the year [with his bike setup], and then after Daytona when I had moved into the points lead only to be down again, and to have to start over and do that again... It just shows that I’ll never give up. I’ve said it before, but I don’t care if I win by 100 points or one point, I won it, and I don’t care what anybody says. I won this championship, and my team won this championship, and I won it fair and square. I had the most race wins, and I had the most points.

It’s only really the points that mattered...
Exactly, and like I said, I won’t take anything away from Chad. He definitely stepped it up this year. We definitely had our differences, but at the end of the day, I believe when it came down to it, I was the guy that stepped up, and I won it. Hat’s off to him, he rode great this year, but the number-one plate’s mine now.

When’s your next race?
I don’t know. I don’t know. To be continued, but honestly I don’t know. Right now, I don’t want to race. I’m so tired. But I’m sure I’ll wake up Monday and I’ll be back into it and riding again, so I don’t know. I won’t sit here and say I’m riding outdoors, because I don’t know, but the way it looks, probably not.