Add Malcolm Stewart to the list of riders who showed good speed in Geneva, but couldn’t turn it into results. His suspension showed up so late that he basically had to skip practice on the first night, and then bike problems continued to plague him throughout the weekend. No worries, though, because Malcolm is always having a good time and has also showed good speed and fitness this off-season. He could be a player come Anaheim 1.
While Malcolm’s skills and personality make him a fan favorite, his teammate Vince Friese toils in a more workman-like manner. He has to, because in the past Vince’s name only drew headlines when he was involved in rough-riding incidents. Quietly, he’s rounding himself into someone known simply for solid results. He was fourth overall in Geneva, and also fourth a few weeks ago in Paris.
Steve Matthes talked to both at the end of the weekend for a bit of an off-season checkup.
Malcolm Stewart | 14th overall
Racer X: Not a great day. Bike problems kind of all weekend long. Your suspension didn’t show up, as we covered yesterday. You missed practice. That was the start of the weekend that was…
Malcolm Stewart: Yeah. Definitely wasn’t the weekend that I expected to have, but it’s one of those black clouds. It just kept circling around me, kept circling around. I can say practice went well, so I did do that. I got all the way through practice.
And you showed great speed until that bike issue.
Yeah, until another bike issue. It’s something that we just couldn’t figure out. Everybody from Honda over here in Geneva, definitely tried everything that we can do, but it’s just an unfortunate issue that was out of our hands.
Yesterday, you didn’t get much practice, and then you kind of crashed in the main event. I thought from the start today you were ready to go. You just felt comfortable. You knew the track now and everything.
Yeah, I felt ten times better. I think that’s what showed the speed. Like I said, qualifying went really good. We were doing really good in the heat race, and then just had another problem. It was actually one of those problems that you got to bite the bullet and you got to know when not to do it and when to do it, and unfortunately we ran out of parts.
I was over there a little bit trying to use my limited mechanical knowledge too. I’m like, I don’t know what’s going on here because everything looks okay. The Honda guys, their race team mechanics, and they were also stumped.
Yeah. Everybody that was from Honda that was here was looking at the motorcycle and couldn’t figure it out. Everybody was sitting there scratching their heads. So obviously there’s some work that we’ve got to do. Hopefully we’re going to get it fixed for Torino because Torino’s coming around the corner. We only got one week off and then we’re coming back.
For you, Montreal, Spain, Monster Cup, Paris, Geneva, and Torino. Are you going to be burnt out by the time Anaheim 1 comes or what?
Well, due to days like today…
I guess you’re rested now.
Yeah, I can have a full week. I can start riding Monday. Honestly, I took some of the summer off. I only had two races in the summer. For me, I got to switch it up a little bit. I felt like I needed to race a little bit and get more used to the bike. For me, coming over here, racing, getting suspension dialed in and things like that, it’s only helping me. Now you’re starting to see a lot of riders starting to do more than one, instead of just one race. [Justin] Barcia is coming over here steady. [Justin] Brayton is coming over here steady. The one thing that’s cool about coming over here, it’s fairly easy. You just go here and ride, do your thing, and go home.
I’ve told this story 100 times, so our listeners are going to be rolling their eyes. I worked for [Tim] Ferry for a long time and he turned down every race in the off-season for ten years.
He lost out on a million dollars.
He tells me now, I should have done every race. Not only is it gate drops and not only is it race atmosphere, and you’ll never practice as much as you race—you just mentioned the money. You’re only in this sport for a short time. If I’m in your shoes, and you certainly have a huge fan base and people want to see you race, do it, in my opinion.
Like I said, for me, obviously if the money’s right, do it, but it’s more than just money. It’s more than just up front, because long-term goal, you’re coming over here and you want to make a good impression to continue to keep coming back. It’s not just a one-time deal. It is what it is. Everybody who has come over here, whether it’s [Cole] Seely—he’s came over in the past. [Christian] Craig’s came over, Barcia, all around. Those guys have been coming over here. It’s not like it’s something new. So every person that is new that comes over here tries to keep coming back because they know it’s fairly easy. It’s a great off-season. Monster Cup is the only race [in the U.S.] and half the people are ready, half aren’t, and it’s just one big race and there’s too much hype around it. This is a lot more laid-back. It’s definitely on a different scale, but it’s getting closer towards the season so that suspension setup that you just tried last weekend, you can try this weekend. So I think it’s a win/win situation.
Something we were talking about over a text message the other day, me and my goofball buddies, is your popularity in the sport. You’ve won a 250 supercross [title]. You’ve never podiumed a 450 supercross or won one, but I feel there’s Roczen, there’s Chad, that I think are next level but your—and don’t take this the wrong way—but for your limited time in 450’s you have a fan base, and you could see it out there when you were making moves in the heat race, even. People were watching you. When you went out with the bike problems, they were like, “Oh!” You could hear this little murmur, like “Mookie’s out!” I think they look at you because of James years ago, and now they see your personality, they see how fast you are, and I really sense that you have a strong fan base.
Yeah, I agree on that one. I think just because I approach things differently. I can relate more towards the crowd. I’m still that guy that plays video games, Fortnight. The whole vibe. I’m always smiling. You never really see me having a bad mood.
I see you interact with a lot of fans.
I have a lot of fans. I think that’s something that the personality, that is what it is today. That’s how the people are today. I like it. I enjoy every moment. I’m definitely not going to change.
Like I said, they get into you because you’re James’ brother, but now you make your own path from there. I think when Eric Peronnard or the promoters of this race or any races you go to see the way you interact with fans, they see the way the fans want to talk to you, they see your skills on a bike… You’re coming back. You’re definitely being invited back.
That’s always the goal. Unfortunately, it sucks to say I probably disappointed them a little bit, but overall for me it’s all about having fun. I feel like if I’m having fun and being myself, you already see the results. We did opening ceremonies and I’m over here joking around, and people love it. They eat it up. These people only get to see me once a year when I come over here, so why would they not want me back?
Are you finally getting less of “Where’s James? What’s James up to?” Are you getting less of that? Do people just want to talk about Malcolm Stewart now?
For the most part, yeah. People really only just talk about me. For me, I don’t really ever acknowledge that. If people ask me where’s James I say, “I don’t know, I just saw him yesterday.” I saw him at Whole Foods the other day. What do you want me to say?
I like the fact that you’re growing into your own guy, you’re your own man and you’re doing these races. I think that your career is ascending here. We talked about it yesterday—you finally got a mechanic and a bike and a team and support, all of that. So things are trending up.
I sleep pretty good at night. Definitely.
Vince Friese | Fourth overall
Racer X: Fourth overall. Just missed third a little bit.
Vince Friese: Again. Same thing in Paris. I would have liked to have gotten up on the overall podium, but it’s not bad. I’ll take it.
I think it was a good weekend for you, right?
Yeah. My riding was better tonight.
Last night you said you did better than your riding was.
My result was better than what my speed was, but tonight my speed was about fourth and that’s where I ended up.
At some point, did Craig make a mistake? Did Christian make a mistake or did you catch him?
Yeah, Craig made a little mistake, slid out or what. He got up right in front of me and I kind of latched onto him. I looked up at the board and I saw he was third and I was fourth. I was like, man, I’d really like to get that podium. He was so fast in the whoops. I’d make up some time in some turns or whatever, and he’d make it back in the whoops.
He’s one of the best in the whoops. We’ve talked a lot about you improving the whoops speed, and you really have, but he’s one of the best.
Him and Malcolm were just insane in the whoops tonight. Malcolm I think a few times didn’t even put his front wheel down in them. It was crazy.
You’ve been riding a lot with Malcolm. What has he taught you? What has he showed you or opened your eyes to? Your team manager, Tony [Alessi], was telling me that Malcolm’s ability to string sections together is just next level. But what can you pick up?
I think the biggest thing has just been every day he sets such a high level of speed at the track, and that really, really makes me have to up my level. When you see a guy ride like that, he rides a lot like his brother and his brother changed the whole sport, changed the way everybody rides. He really has that same deal. Riding behind him or watching him ride every day or whatever, you pick up on those little things and you kind of adapt to that. Just like every little kid in the country racing now does the scrub and has this whole new technique, and they all got that from watching James.
Can you learn some of that or it some of it just forget it, it’s natural talent?
I think it’s a little bit of both. If you look 15 years ago, kids on 80s weren’t scrubbing at all, even the best ones, and now mid-pack 80 riders at the local races are scrubbing and doing all this stuff.
Just in general, just the skill.
Him and James both have just a whole other level of skill. I think even Malcolm’s got more than what he has shown still. It’s pretty crazy what he can do sometimes at the track.
He can lay down some laps. We called it “Heat Race Mookie” on Twitter because last year he would just grab two, three, four laps that were amazing and rip through guys.
Yeah. He might be main event Mookie this year. He doesn’t get tired.
Yeah, he’s working hard?
I kind of pride myself on my fitness and I can’t break him most of the time.
He looks slimmer to me.
Yeah, he’s lost some weight. Even there’s some days where on certain tracks I have the same speed or more than him and I can’t break him in a 20. He does not get tired anymore. He’s good.
For you, fourth. You haven’t always been a fan of the stuff that I’ve said or written about you, but I thought last year you turned a corner and you had a very solid year at times. Did you get 11th in points, 12th?
I think people would be surprised if they looked at the points that you were 12th overall and not that far back from getting into the top ten. I think that would really open some eyes if people looked at that and they watched you all year long. These two races have been just as impressive. You got to be happy, man, going into the next year.
Yeah, I am. I think I found a few little things I got to clean up here in the next three or four weeks before Anaheim. I feel good. I feel like I can be a contender for top fives. I feel like I can have a shot at being on the podium at races.
Wouldn’t that be something if you sat on the podium?
If I can put it all together. I’ve still got plenty of time. Obviously, JB [Justin Brayton] is 34 and he just won his first race. So I got a little time. I’m 28. I got a little time to figure it out.
What is your secret on starts?
Why would I tell you?
Good point. Never mind. Do you have something that is just money?
You’re really not going to share it?
We got it figured out.
You really do, man. Absolutely. That is such a big part. You put yourself in a position to have good finishes from those starts. Even with Mike Alessi over the years, people would be like, “He’s just a good starter.” Well, that’s part of the race. I must have missed the part where that’s not part of the race. People want to discount the good starters a little bit. That’s a huge skill.
For sure. Then it gives you that opportunity to race with the fastest guys and learn their speed and put yourself at that level.
As far as testing on the motorcycle goes, obviously Brayton’s been away a little bit and you’ve been testing with Malcolm. Are you going to go into Anaheim with close to the same setup, or are you radically changing? I’ve heard some stories about part of the issue for you with whoops is your stuff was too soft forever, and they started stiffening it up and stiffening it up, and you had to get used to it. That’s a little bit of where your improvement comes from. Are you continuing that vein of bike setup?
Yeah, we’re still making little tweaks. Even between Paris and here we made a new setting, and it’s better. I think after every time I came off the track I was like, “Man, I wish I brought that fork.” We just left our stuff here from Paris.
So you didn’t bring it this weekend?
Yeah, we didn’t bring it back. You saw all the trouble these guys had with losing suspension, so we were like, “It’s here. Let’s leave it.” It’s still good. But I did come up with a new setting last week that I like better. We’re constantly making the bike a little bit better. So things like that will change.
Are you getting better at testing yourself, from Vince Friese of say four years ago or five years ago?
Yeah, I think I am. I think I’ve always had a really good feel with the bike, but I think I haven’t always known the direction I want. Like, I don’t know what I want my bike to be when I’m done testing. I just know what I feel. So that’s something I’ve learned from Justin Brayton is he knows exactly what he wants, and he can go ride the bike and make it that way. That’s something I’ve learned. I’ve got to know what I’m looking for, the direction I’m heading. I’ve kind of just gone off of this doesn’t feel good, change it. I think I have that really good feel and that’s why they use me a lot for testing, but I’m learning to get a direction. That’s really helping.
I’m trying to help Alex Ray out a little bit because he is all over the map with testing. He’s never tested. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s learning. He got the factory spot fill-in ride and everyone’s throwing so many parts at him that he’s finally learning. It’s an acquired skill. It’s not something everybody can just jump on and learn, right?
Yeah. It takes time. I’d say even the best guys, even guys like Justin and Chad, they’re still trying to figure that out. I know Reed’s always taking parts off and on.
I think he does too much, to be honest. I told him that and he tells me I’m an idiot. But I think he does too much.
Maybe, but you can’t really argue with him. He’s Chad Reed. He’s a two-time champion. Look at everything he’s done. You can’t argue with him too much.