Over the weekend, James Stewart was one of six individuals inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, alongside of Kenny Coolbeth, Greg Hancock, Effie Hotchkiss, Sandy Kosman, and Ben Spies as members of the Class of 2022. Stewart broke records on the track and also became the first African American rider to win a championship in AMA Supercross and Motocross. The Florida native piled up wins at the amateur level (seven titles AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship titles) then made it to the top level of the sport, where he ended his professional racing career second in combined AMA professional motocross and supercross wins, and also boasting two AMA Supercross premier class titles, two AMA 125SX titles and the all-time wins record in both 125 Classes of AMA Supercross and Motocross, as well as his two AMA Motocross 125cc titles and his perfect season in the 450 Class of AMA Motocross in 2008, becoming only the second rider to ever do the feat as he joins Ricky Carmichael. Stewart was known for pushing the limits in search of the next level, so he provided everyone watching a show and left an impact on people all around the world. In May 2019, Stewart officially announced his retirement from professional racing, although he had not lined up for a gate drop since 2016.
With his family in attendance on Friday night, Stewart shared a passionate speech as an official member of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Watch the full replay of the induction ceremony here on the American Motorcyclist Association Facebook page.
A little over 12 hours after the induction ceremony, I talked to Bubba to get his reaction.
Racer X: Congratulations, it’s now Hall-of-Famer James Stewart. Now that it’s been 12 hours of it sinking in, what’s going through your mind?
James Stewart: It’s special. Last night it was emotional and kind of a blur. Just seeing all the people and throughout the years, from my first mechanic, J-Bone [Jeremy Albrecht], to my practice bike mechanic Dave Kelly, my mom and dad, my brother. So many people that were here supporting me. Roger Larsen. Just thinking about him and having the trust he had in me from coming with Answer and we started Seven. Just from back then to where we are now, it’s pretty cool. There’s a million people I wanted to thank and that I didn’t have a chance to thank. Pete Fox from Fox. They were a huge part of my career. Todd Hicks, Scott Taylor. The list goes on. So, it was cool to see some faces here. Just as much as my family means to me with those guys being here, it meant just as much with those guys that were here and all the people who couldn’t show but sent texts. I got a badass text from Chad Reed this morning, and I got one from RC [Ricky Carmichael] last night. So, it was cool.
Fifteen years ago would you have ever expected to get a text from Chad Reed or Ricky?
No. We were just in a different era of life, but it still shows what kind of people they are, that we can all see a grown man cry on the stage and that makes them emotional. It was cool. I’ll just keep the text between me and Chad, but it was probably one of the coolest I’ve ever received from somebody, and it meant a lot. So, I’ve got to thank Chad for sending that. It was sick.
You have all these championships, the on-track accomplishments between the 125 two-stroke days, the 450 supercross titles, the perfect motocross season—only you and Ricky were able to do a perfect season so far. Then obviously you were the first person to really break the color barrier, being an African American in the sport. You got to the top level in the sport. Then you won a lot. What are you most proud of when you think back on your career? What is the thing that stands out to you? Is it the championships? Is it the wins? What is James Stewart most proud of?
There’s not really one moment. Cole [Beach] asked me that question just a little while ago and I had a hard time answering it because people talk about wall jump and all those things, and championships. Of course, they mean a lot, but as much as I love competing and love winning, I don't know if that’s really what I was here for. Maybe I said that, like it was all winning or nothing. I think it was more just about my family and just seeing smiles on people’s faces. I think probably what makes me the proudest is when people come and say I inspired them and kind of change their life. My fans were a huge reason why I was doing the things I was. That part got me excited. By doing that, obviously I was able to win a lot of races. I think I’m probably proud of just having the texts and the respect from the industry and the riders that I have received now. That is what makes me the proudest, is just really seeing that and receiving all that stuff. Leaving a mark on everybody and just the respect from the industry.
Do you have one memory from your racing days, an on-track moment that stands out to you? Do you remember everything that happened, or just it was a huge accomplishment? Anything that’s like, “I’m going to remember that forever?”
I remember everything, a lot of races. [Laughs] You would think the perfect memory would be the perfect season, but as special as that was, I would say probably the most gratifying championship was that ’09 [supercross] championship going against Reed that year. New bike and DNF in the first race. He was so strong that year. Then to have that [shot at the title in] Vegas and win it by four points or whatnot. I think that was probably the most accomplished championship, I’ve felt, because it had the most adversity. Winning 12, 13 races whatever that year and winning by four points. It was a lot of work. Championships, that probably was the most. I would also say  Toronto was a special one. Not in the moment, but afterwards and having people who lived that race. That was a pretty special night because it didn’t seem like I was doing too much besides being myself. So that was probably Toronto and that championship.
I think that Toronto race is one of the ones that people rewatch a lot, I know I go on YouTube and watch it a couple times here and there. [Laughs]
Yeah. And I’ve got to throw in that ’03 Budds Creek, second moto. That was probably my favorite race.
Adjusting to life after racing, was that hard at first? What was that like? You didn’t really announce your retirement right away, but you were done racing. You kind of went off the radar for a little bit. What was that like?
Not just a little bit. [Laughs] In ’16, I didn’t officially retire. I wasn’t planning on retiring in Washougal. What happened for me, I was sitting on the gate, and I wasn’t nervous anymore. It was the first race I’ve ever been in, and I was just thinking about other things. I wasn’t nervous. So, I knew I needed a break. That was my last race obviously, but that was the moment where I was like, I need to take the season off. I need a change. The next year in 2017, I was working on my own team, trying to get that started. Then I spent nine months, had everything ready and it fell through at the last part. So, I think it wasn’t until end of 2017, 2018 where I was like, you know what? I think I’m done. Probably a year there I went dark because as you know me, I don’t really talk unless I know what my plan is. The reason for that part was it wasn’t anything particular besides I was trying to get my team going and I didn’t officially retire until the end of that year. I guess at that point, then I got fat. Really fat. [Laughs] I was just enjoying my kids and life. So, it just kind of went past so quickly to me. I always say it’s like when somebody calls you a couple times and you forget to call them back, it gets to a point where sometimes it’s like, should I even call them back? Then the period goes on. So, I think that’s what happened. It wasn’t planned that way, to just disappear. It wasn’t a life struggling thing or whatnot. It was just more trying to get that team. That didn’t go through, and then at that point then I had my me time. And my meat time and then got fat.
Like you mentioned, you didn’t have this magical season, but for you to now be inducted into the Hall of Fame, does it kind of put a cap on your racing career? Maybe it didn’t end how you wanted it to on the track, but do you have some closure now that you’re in the Hall of Fame and you can look back and say, “it was a success even if it didn’t end how I wanted it to?” Do you get any ease out of being inducted into the Hall of Fame?
Yeah, for sure. To answer the first part, the Hall of Fame definitely puts a closure. It’s the ultimate peak of where you’re trying to be accomplished as a racer. To be able to make that one claim, that’s your ultimate championship. But being inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s not closure for the end of my career. Yeah, I wanted to win more races, but that part was never, I didn’t need closure for that. I didn’t have a, “Oh, should I still race?” or anything. I never felt that. I think that’s why I was able to just once I decided to retire be okay with it and didn’t feel like I wanted to ride and all that. I was okay with the way when I stopped racing. It wasn’t an urge to go back. So, I think being in the Hall of Fame is not just the icing [on the cake], but the ultimate prize as a motorcycle racer, and not necessarily closure for my career. I didn’t need that. I was okay with whatever happened, how it ended. Of course, I didn’t want to be battling back in eighth, tenth place back there, [Laughs] but I don’t have any regrets with that.
You talked about last night especially your father. You just wanted to be fast and make him proud. You got emotional with that, and I think he did too. Everybody in the room really was emotional with it. I think if you look back, you can say that you did a good job with that, you made him proud. What does it mean to you to be inducted with everybody, with your family here, with your kids, everybody? Like you said, everything is family. A tight family is a good thing. You just had everybody with you, and it was emotional. What was that like to be able to share that with your parents and with your boys and everybody here? Your brother Malcolm was here. That was really cool.
Yeah, it was. It’s special because that’s who I started with, so to have the opportunity to end this part of my career with them. As a son, you always want to hear your dad say, “I’m proud of you.” So, I think that moment was like last night. To be able to be a dad and be in front of my kids, and hopefully they understand that. It was just a lot going on. For me, it was just nice to have that moment, not only with them but just with everybody from the industry and just all the people I’ve met to say thank you. It was just a big night. It’s funny because you race and each team you celebrate with that team, the members of whoever, Kawasaki, Yamaha, but last night I had the opportunity to celebrate with everybody I’ve worked with. It was like one big championship, and that was cool.
Well once again, congratulations.
Thank you, thank you.
During the public unveiling ceremony, Stewart talked about his race machine that will now sit in the Hall of Fame Museum, his 2008 Kawasaki KX450F.
During the public unveiling of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Class of 2022, James Stewart talks about his 2008 Kawasaki KX450F. Stewart won all 24 motos of @ProMotocross in '08, becoming only the second rider to complete a perfect #Motocross season. #AMAHoF#Supercrosspic.twitter.com/63VCnYmtrY— Mitch Kendra (@mitch_kendra) October 31, 2022
“There’s not really much to say about this bike besides it won. A lot. [Laughs] Literally won everything that it was competed in. My 2008 Kawasaki. And I want to thank Kawasaki for loaning this thing or putting it here for us to appreciate it. I know for me it brought back a lot of memories sitting here looking at it. Yeah, that was a special year. Coming back off the injury and being able to come back and winning all the races, 24 out of 24. Yeah, there really was not much to say, this thing was a bad mofo. Excuse me. [Laughs] And it won everything it entered in that year. So I’m proud to have it and again, to have it up here. I want to thank the AMA for now being an inductee in the Hall of Fame. And having this bike on stage, it’s an honor.”
Main image by Mitch Kendra